Weakened turtle loses battle

By Peter de Graaf


An ailing tropical turtle that washed up on Ninety Mile Beach this week has died despite the efforts of experts at Kelly Tarlton's aquarium.

The green turtle was found at Waipapakauri Ramp, about 15km north of Ahipara, on Monday. It weighed in at 8kg and was thought to be about 5 years old.

It was flown to Kelly Tarlton's in Auckland, badly dehydrated and low in calcium. Aquarium staff dubbed it "Trev" and put it on a delicate heating and medical treatment plan, which included fluids, calcium shots and antibiotics.

Aquarist Matt Harvey said the first 24-48 hours were the most critical and proved too much for Trev, the turtle dying on Wednesday night.

He said turtles found on a New Zealand beach were generally extremely sick because only females came ashore to nest in specific areas, none of which were in New Zealand. Reasons for becoming ill included cold shock, boat strikes and blockages from foreign objects such as plastic bags.

Trev could have been floating around New Zealand on a downward spiral for months over winter before a spring storm washed it ashore, because it was too weak to swim.

Kelly Tarlton's turtle programme aims to diagnose problems and return animals to health before release.

Kaitaia Department of Conservation spokeswoman Carolyn Smith said once a turtle was found on a Northland beach it had only a 50 per cent chance of survival, so DoC should be alerted swiftly. Anyone finding a sea turtle on shore, or a stranded or injured marine mammal, should call the nearest DoC office or the 24-hour hotline 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).

New Zealand's first recorded turtle sighting was in 1876, but the number being is increasing but that could be because findings are reported more than in the past.

At least seven turtles, mostly green with the odd hawksbill, were found in the Far North last year. Previously, just one or two were reported annually.

Sea turtles hatch in the sand, make their way to the ocean, then 20 years later return to the beach where they were born. Only the females come ashore to lay eggs. They need sand temperatures of 26C-28C to incubate their eggs.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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