Jul 052013

Original story by Marty McArthy at ABC Rural

Animal carers in north Queensland have found a novel way to treat sick turtles – by sending them to the spa.

Admissions to Townsville’s Reef HQ turtle hospital quadruple during the winter months due to chilly ocean waters.

Turtles are taking spa baths at Reef HQ in Townsville

Turtles are taking spa baths at Reef HQ in Townsville

The sick turtles are then put into warm water tanks where they can stay for up to 18 months.

Mark Read, a protected species expert with the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, says the cold conditions make life harder for turtles.

“Turtles are a cold blooded animal so their body temperature is regulated by the water and the air,” he said.

“As the temperature starts to drop a turtle’s temperature starts to drop and any of the pre-existing illnesses they may have had coming into winter get exacerbated.

“It’s like us when we start getting colds and flu during winter time.”

Admissions to the turtle hospital have increased from one or two a month during the warmer months to one or two a week.

Six turtles have been admitted since the beginning of May, but Reef HQ expects that number to increase with colder temperatures anticipated for the coming weeks.

Mr Read says the turtle hospital service at Reef HQ will help to get the animals through the winter months.

“If they don’t get some sort of intervention some will do okay but unfortunately some of them will die,” he said.

“So we try to break that cycle so we can bring animals back in and give them a bit of care.

“If they start getting poor during winter times it means they can’t escape predators properly.”


Turtles don’t just catch colds in the winter months, many also suffer from floating syndrome.

This means turtles get stuck floating at the surface and cannot dive to access sea grass or escape predators.

“It means there’s air in their body,” Aquarist Krystal Huff said.

“It’s caused by them having a block in their gut with something like a plastic bag or natural material.

“A lot of gas builds up so they can’t control their buoyancy.”

Floating syndrome can also be caused by parasite infection or pneumonia where air leaks out of the lungs and into the shell.

“So turtles are exposed to more predators and things like boat strikes because they can’t dive,” Ms Huff said.

An additional problem is that turtles are more likely to get sunburn when they can’t submerge.

However beach goers should be careful not to assume all visible turtles are sick or injured.

“Some of these turtles seek out warmer, shallow areas of water along the beach,” Ms Huff said.

“Even if they’re healthy they may move up onto a beach to bask but people tend to see them on the beach and call up about them being sick.”

The Reef HQ aquarium turtle hospital can be contacted on 1300 ANIMAL.

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