The Great Barrier Reef is home to six of the world's seven species of marine turtles. A number of these are seriously threatened by a diverse range of human induced factors, including:
  • Chemical contamination from runoff into the ocean which may play a role in the onset of gut impactions in turtles, resulting in floater's disease
  • Injuries resulting from boat strikes
  • Marine debris ingestion and/or entrapment
  • Entanglement in discarded fishing nets and equipment
  • Global warming (irrespective of what the cause might be)

With less than one in a thousand turtle hatchlings surviving to breeding age, the rehab centre can make a small difference by caring for and releasing adolescent and adult marine turtles to enable the species too continue to thrive for future generations of Great Barrier Reef visitors to enjoy.

Information captured and utilised by the Cairns rehab team is often shared with other rehabilitation centres' both nationally and internationally. The data spans everything from autopsy findings to blood composition and genetic sampling.

In addition, members of the Rehab team are currently involved in a number of research activities including turtle nesting site surveys, marine debris impacts on turtles and feral animal control on and around turtle nesting sites.

The Great Barrier Reef is home to six of the world's seven species of marine turtles.

There are many threats that marine turtles encounter daily in their environment.

To understand health and morbidity problems in turtle populations there is a need to collect and evaluate data regarding how many animals are affected by ingestion of debris, contaminants, and entanglement.

In the regions encompassing the Great Barrier Reef and the western portion of Cape York Peninsula, little research has been undertaken regarding gut blockages from marine debris, in turtle populations.

Plastic ingested by turtles can cause a blockage or perforated the digestive tract. Turtles food can accumulate around the foreign object and rot, this process produces gas which causes the turtle to float, that can lead to death by starvation or boat strike (UQ News Online 2008).

Many types of plastic do not biodegrade in the environment and the effects on marine animals can be devastating. Plastic bags, plastic, Styrofoam, tar, balloons, and plastic pellets have been discovered in the stomachs of dead turtles. These anthropogenic contaminants interfere with metabolism and harm the animal through absorption of toxic byproducts. All species of turtles have been known to consume a wide variety of synthetic drift items that include plastic bags, plastic sheeting, plastic particles, balloons, Styrofoam beads and monofilament fishing line. Turtles commonly mistake plastic bags and plastic sheets for jellyfish or other prey.

Plastic pellets that are used in industrial raw materials are causing concern as they accumulate in the marine environment (Thompson et al. 2004). These pellets can be mistaken for a food sources and then provide a source of toxic chemicals such as PCB's.