Marine Matters – by Phil Coulthard
As featured in the South Western Times – 11/08/16
Myrtle the Turtle
The impacts of storms along our coast can be devastating, especially at this time of the year when winter cold fronts combine with Antarctic swells and high tides. They not only damage property and erode the immediate coastline, but they also destroy the majority of the shallow water reef and seagrass habitats close to shore. For our local marine life, the destruction of these habitats will always be an issue and often result in a variety of animals stranded amongst the piles of seaweed lining our beaches. One particular animal that everyone should keep a keen eye out for are baby marine turtles. Although they are a tropical marine reptile, thousands of these little guys are carried south by the Leeuwin current and eventually wash ashore on our beaches with little to no hope of survival. Their only chance is to be transported to the rescue and rehabilitation pool at the Dolphin Discovery Centre where they are housed in a heated aquarium and cared for by trained staff and volunteers prior to being released back into the wild. With a number of storm cells expected over the next month or two, the Department of Parks and Wildlife are expecting many turtles to fall victim to the winter conditions so make sure you keep an eye out whenever you are enjoying a fish or a beach walk along our SW coast.
Some of you may remember a very sick green turtle that made its way to the DDC pool earlier this year. Found on Rottnest Island in early March, Myrtle the turtle was initially taken to Perth Zoo for assessment and then transported to the DDC for stabilization. When she first arrived she was in very poor condition, was unable to swim effectively due to a build-up of gas under her shell and couldn’t eat due to a number of grotesque tumours growing around her face and neck. Known as Fibropapilloma virus, these tumours grow very aggressively once they are established and are proving to be a major concern for a number of marine turtle species around the world. Although there is a potential link to increased nitrogen runoff from human activity, the cause of the virus is not fully understood, leaving scientists with very few answers on how to stop one of the biggest issues threatening the endangered Green Turtle species today.
Fortunately for Myrtle, the surgery was an outstanding success and her recovery has been nothing short of miraculous. Not only have the tumours been removed, she has also lost the gas under her shell allowing her the freedom to swim and dive. Her appetite has also returned in force with the DDC staff and volunteers struggling to keep up the food intake she so desperately demands. Her weight gain has also been very encouraging and suggests she will be ready for release back into the wild by the Department of Parks and Wildlife later in the year. Until then, Myrtle appears to be very happy enjoying the luxury of a 5 star all-you can eat seafood banquet and daily spa service inclusive of regular check-ups, body rubs and parasite cleansing. She also loves to entertain visitors so feel free to visit Myrtle at the DDC during regular opening hours.
Students from schools across the South West will come together next Tuesday (6th September) as part of Kids Teaching Kids Week 2016. Following on from the success of Bunbury’s inaugural Kids Teaching
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