News Good News Green sea turtles swim free with help from five-year-old Yeppoon wildlife warrior, Owen Harris
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Green sea turtles swim free with help from five-year-old Yeppoon wildlife warrior, Owen Harris

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Three vulnerable green sea turtles in Queensland’s Capricorn region have returned to the ocean after recovering from horrific injuries and illness.

The first, given the name Jae by rescuers, was found with an exposed and infected muscle from an old entanglement injury.

And Barney’s front-right flipper was wrapped in fishing line and had to be amputated, while Coral was found sick, lethargic, and underweight.

The release of the juveniles marked the first time the Quoin Island Turtle Rehabilitation Centre has returned three turtles to the ocean at the same time.

Five-year-old Yeppoon boy, Owen Harris, and his mum, Bluey, were involved in each rescue mission.

“I found Barney, she had fishing line wrapped around her flipper touching the bone, so I had to pick her up, bring her to the vet, then Quoin Island,” Owen said.

“It just had a big bump on its flipper, it was so dead [if we’d left it] – I just didn’t like that.”

Green seat turtle fishing line wrapped around a swollen and infected flipper, turtle has sad face
Barney was found with fishing line wrapped around its flipper and with bone exposed. Photo: Bluey Harris

The young wildlife warrior named one of the turtles.

“I named her Coral because I just thought, hopefully she gets to see more coral in the ocean,” Owen said.

When he is not at school, Owen spends his spare time picking up rubbish to protect sealife.

Wildlife can’t help themselves, so we need to help them,” Owen said.

“Please help turtles, that’s what I just want to do.

“I just feel better for them to be in the ocean.”

Turtle looks wistfully towards the ocean, people and dogs in the background on the beach watching, another turtle in distance
Barney has learnt to live with three flippers and has returned to the wild 1.6 kilograms heavier. Photo: Erin Semmler

A turtle taxi driver

The rehabilitation centre releases turtles in similar locations to where they are found.

In this case, all three made the return journey from the rehabilitation centre to the mainland in a boat.

From there, they were driven two hours north to Yeppoon by Gladstone shiftworker, Karly Purchase.

“Two of them were in the back and then Coral, the feisty, moveable one was on the floor on the passenger side and she tried to move quite a lot,” she said.

“I think the sides of my doors might be scratched up a little bit from Jae, but she didn’t get anywhere.

Barney hardly moved at all but she’s still getting used to only having three flippers.

“It’s the opposite of kids – if there was no noise. It was all good.”

A group of people carrying three green sea turtles on the beach.
It is the first time the Quoin Island Turtle Rehabilitation Centre has released three turtles at the same time. Photo: Erin Semmler

Ms Purchase said it did not take much to become a turtle taxi driver, as she used to drive a regular taxi.

“You have to talk to yourself a lot because they don’t talk back. That’s it – anyone can do it,” she said.

My car now smells like the ocean, nothing wrong with that though – I love the ocean.

“It’s just another way to volunteer and help your environment and your community, if you can.”

What’s next for the turtle trio?

It is hoped the healthy turtles will live for many years to come so they can lay eggs and add to the population when they mature.

Rehabilitation centre manager, Kim van Oudheusden, said for the first time the centre had released five turtles in the space of a week.

She said the team was feeling optimistic but things could change quickly.

“[Most injuries] are the result of irresponsible fishing,” she said.

Owen with his khaki wildlife warrior uniform, a blue backpack and a dark cap on waves at the ocean.
Owen waves goodbye to sea turtles Jae, Coral and Barney. Photo: Erin Semmler

Ms van Oudheusden said only time would tell how the easing of coronavirus restrictions in Queensland would affect turtle admissions.

“It’s good that people can go onto the beaches again because if any sick or injured turtles wash up, they’ll actually be found,” she said.

“What’s concerning, though, is more boats on the water and people going fishing and not doing the right thing.”

The centre is asking the public to stay vigilant during winter and to look out for turtles.

“If they’re immunocompromised, they can’t handle the temperature change that well,” she said.

“They get really slow, as they’re reptiles they’re cold-blooded and can’t regulate their own body temperature.”