Sunshine Coast’s UnderWater World today (Wednesday 15 May) launched a major new advance to its successful turtle rehabilitation program, with rescued turtle ‘Jamieson’ the first turtle to be fitted with a satellite tracking system.
An olive ridley sea turtle officially named ‘Jamieson’ today, after Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson, will be the first turtle to be tagged, released and monitored in real-time.
Turtle tagging will build on the success of the rescue and rehabilitation program, which has already seen 67 turtles cared for at UnderWater World in the past year, with the animal team, and eventually visitors, able to monitor and track the progress of rehabilitated turtles once they are released back into local seas.
Mayor Mark Jamieson was on hand today at UnderWater World’s turtle hospital to meet his namesake ‘Jamieson’ and watch the tagging process unfold.
UnderWater World’s Head Curator Mark Smith said Jamieson, who was rescued on Fraser Island and brought to UnderWater World six months ago with floating syndrome, has been fitted with a satellite tracking device to its shell, and is set to be released off the coast of Mooloolaba next week.
“This way we’ll be able to identify the location of turtles, depth of water, water temperature and time, which gives us and other researchers a better understanding of how turtles adapt to their surrounding environments after rehabilitation,” he said.
“On a larger scale, tagging will also allow researchers and government bodies to detect whether turtles are congregating in a shipping lane and at risk of being injured again. This data could even then be used to change legislation to help protect the animals.”
The UnderWater World turtle team, which includes six marine specialists and a veterinarian, along with the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection and the University of Queensland Zoology Department will have access to huge range of data about the released turtles.
Previously, all rescued turtles were tagged with a coded, stainless steel tag. The codes were logged into StrandNet a government-managed animal tracking system, which meant rehabilitated tagged animals could only be tracked if they were either injured again or caught by researchers, who could then check the code in StrandNet for the animal’s history.
The new satellite tracking system means UnderWater World team and researchers can access real-time information about each turtle tagged – tracking the turtle’s location, depth and movement.
In the next few months, UnderWater World visitors will also be able to track the rehabilitated turtle journeys on TV screens that will be fitted in the attraction’s Turtle Temple zone.
UnderWater World has been caring for sick and injured turtles for 24 years and estimates 829 turtles have been nursed during that time.
Mr Smith said the UnderWater World turtle rehabilitation program has been increasingly effective at raising awareness on the Sunshine Coast of the plight of sea turtles and turtle tagging was the next big step.
“We’ve had tremendous results in raising awareness and educating the public about these endangered animals, and what to do with an injured turtle, and now it’s time to develop this initiative further and monitor where these turtles go after being cared for at UnderWater World.”
“When a sick or injured turtle is brought into the attraction, treatment begins in Turtle Hospital where we assess the turtle, provide good quality water, food and if necessary medication,” he said.
“After Turtle Hospital, the turtles are then moved into progressively larger tanks and in the final stage of recovery they are transferred into the attraction’s Turtle Temple zone where they remain for a month until they are ready to be released.”
UnderWater World has been involved in rehabilitating sea turtles for many years and last year invested $4m into the new ocean tank, including the Turtle Temple zone as an integral part of UnderWater World’s marine conservation program.