Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Center
When researching where to go for our 2018 family holiday, my goal was to find a destination that would tick several boxes. I wanted to adventure somewhere that offered more than a holiday in the sun; I was chasing experience, learning and the opportunity to give back. With requests for lots of swimming from my two children, Queensland was getting a work out on Google!
That was when I found the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre (CTRC). I was immediately captivated by the incredible voluntary work they do treating and rehabilitating sick & diseased marine turtles. With facilities in Cairns and Fitzroy Island, they work with six of the world’s seven species of Marine Turtle and play a significant role in helping treat sick and injured turtles brought in from the Cape York Peninsula and Great Barrier Reef. After contacting the CTRC I was invited to document some of their day-to-day work. Fitzroy Island, here we come!
The centre was founded in 2000 by Jennie Gilbert and Paul Barnes using their own resources. Nestled under tropical forest, the centre on Fitzroy Island is basic, but resourceful. With increasing support over the years and partnerships with Marlin Coast Veterinary Clinic, the centre now has a successful rehabilitation and release rate of 85%.
Jennie never thought this is where her life would take her. A veterinary scientist specializing in microbiology, she has worked with various creatures including living in Africa for two years researching and studying megafauna. A break from the field saw her study marketing and even a stint working as a tour guide in London. Perhaps an essential and needed break that added to her skillset ensuring the longevity of the CTRC. The passion Jennie has for turtles is endless and the ripple effect of this passion is felt in every aspect of the operation.
During our time on the island, Jennie shared the stories of the turtles in her care. Let me tell you, the resilience of these turtles is incredible. They’ve faced marine debris ingestion and/or entanglement, boat strikes, spearing, entanglement in discarded fishing nets, ‘floaters disease’ and various impacts caused by global warming. These turtles have certainly suffered from human impact on the planet. But as I always like to tell my children, whenever you see something bad happening in the world always look for the people helping. There is always someone doing good. The team at the CTRC are doing just that. From rescue, rehabilitation, research and education they are tackling the serious threats facing marine turtles to conserve both the sea turtle and their environment.
As a volunteer was guided by Jennie on the process of prepping squid for the turtle’s breakfast, jokes were made about their 5-star diet of only the best prawn, squid and fish. None of this is donated, the feed being the most expensive cost for the centre at $85k a year. Yep, just stop and take that cost in for a second.
Visiting the centre on Fitzroy Island and speaking with Jennie was a treasured experience, a highlight of 2018. Looking these beautiful creatures in the eye and hearing their traumas was certainly heartbreaking. But following their progress, and knowing many have since been successfully rehabilitated and released, offers hope. It is amazing what the dedication and passion of one human can achieve for the world when focused.
How can you help?
Change can be uncomfortable, even costly financially…but it’s a small price to pay for making a positive and lasting impact. I’m not living a 100% plastic free life, but I like to think I’m conscious and active with my daily measures in making our family’s use of any plastic/harmful waste as minimal as possible. With a continual thirst for knowledge with my kids, I am sure we will continue to grow our efforts both in our own lives and that of our world. You can too!
It takes more than one person or even one generation to fix a problem, rather a sustained and conscious effort by many. The skills, acquired knowledge and passion must be passed through each generation to have the greatest impact possible.
Some steps you can take when out and about:
Shop local produce/direct from farmers where possible. This reduces packaging and the distance your food has to travel to get to you.
Take reusable containers and bags to shops when purchasing groceries. Even your butcher may be able to pack straight into your container, avoiding plastic trays and cling wrap.
Keep a rubbish bag and gloves in your car boot so that if you see rubbish, you can clean it up and dispose of it safely. It is amazing how much you can find just walking in your neighbourhood for a few minutes.
Don’t use plastic straws! There are great bamboo, stainless steel or silicon options you can purchase and reuse. If the establishment you are visiting automatically puts one in your drink, have a conversation with them. Tell them you don’t want one and hope to see them stop using them altogether.
Get educated! Watch some documentaries, read books, ask questions. Libraries are a free resource that we could all make better use of.
Some steps you can take at home
Research your makeup and avoid anything that contains micro-plastics. I admit, I’m still working on this one.
DON’T use balloons outside for parties. Get creative with some alternate ideas. Better yet, don’t use balloons at all.
Use biodegradable rubbish bags for bins.
Set up a worm farm and compost bin. My kids love to joke how they have over 1000 pets. Our worms do an incredible job at composting our food scraps, and in return we get all the natural fertilizer we need to put back into our garden. It’s cheap and will cut your garbage going to landfill immensely.
Make a donation. There are loads of amazing organisations doing incredible things for Australia’s environment and animals.