Tragic end to rare turtle’s life after Ballina rescue

SEABIRD Rescue desperately tried to save a Hawksbill turtle’s life after he was found completely covered in barnacles.

Australian Seabird Rescue at Ballina is caring for this sick Hawksbill turtle.

THE critically endangered turtle that was found covered in barnacles last week has been put down.

Australian Seabird Rescue general manager, Kathrina Southwell, said the Hawksbill Turtle was incredibly weak, hungry and unable to see.

She said he was likely suffering for two or three months.

“I don’t think he could have made it, but we had to try anyway because they are critically endangered,” Ms Southwell said.

“Being a reptile they can survive these ailments for a long time … but he was completely emaciated and probably starving.”

The turtle was covered in barnacles and Ms Southwell said it was the worst she’d ever seen a Hawksbill.

Australian Seabird Rescue at Ballina is caring for this sick Hawksbill turtle.

He was found stranded at North Wall, Ballina.

Ms Southwell said it was sadly not uncommon to find stranded turtles, particularly at this time of the year.

“As an estimate, we see at least one or two turtles every week,” she said.

“I would say 90% or more of the turtles we rescue have at least a 50% barnacle load.”

She described this Hawksbill as having a barnacle load of 100%.

A Hawksbill turtle being released back into the ocean. Picture: Christian Morrow

Floating syndrome

One of the most common causes for stranding of turtles is “floating syndrome”.

It’s where the turtle floats on the surface of the water and due to gas inside of them, they can’t dive down to get their natural food or get to their cleaning station.

The cleaning station is where fish and other sea creatures eat the algae and barnacles from the turtle’s body.

Ms Southwell said a parasite infestation or infection could cause floating syndrome, but it was most likely due to eating plastic.

Kathrina Southwell, general manager of SeaBird Rescue. Picture: Doug Eaton


When Ms Southwell and the team at Australian Seabird Rescue get a barnacle-covered turtle in their care the first thing they do is place it in fresh water for 24 hours.

“That helps to kill the whole ecosystem living on them,” she explained.

“Once the barnacles die they start to get a little bit loose on the (shell) and the skin and we can remove those barnacles gently with tweezers.”

She said every turtle that comes into care with a high barnacle load will automatically be given medication.

“One of those medications is really expensive, for a small bottle of 20ml it costs $200,” she said.

“It’s worth it though because it really works with fluke worms and other parasites the turtle might be suffering from.”

Australian Seabird Rescue in Ballina is now looking after a green sea turtle with about six barnacles on his shell and 80% coverage on his skin.

A green sea turtle captured feeding on a jellyfish last year. Picture: Garry Kennedy

The outcome for this one is looking a lot more optimistic.

“The barnacles are really small,” Ms Southwell said.

“He’s probably been like this for eight to nine weeks.”

Australian Seabird Rescue, located on North Creek Rd, Ballina, has about seven turtles in their care at the moment.

They are running school holiday tours at 10am daily on weekdays, at a cost of $5 per person.

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