A sick loggerhead turtle under the care of the Ballina Byron Sea Turtle Hospital.
A sick loggerhead turtle under the care of the Ballina Byron Sea Turtle Hospital. Yvonne Gardiner

On a rescue mission to save seabirds and turtles

IT'S incredibly sad to see how much our coastal wildlife suffers from irresponsible human activities.

The "wall of shame" at the Australian Seabird Rescue centre in Ballina displays items that have contributed to injuries and deaths of birds and turtles - fishing gear like hooks and line, balloons and discarded plastic.

General manager Kathrina Southwell has cared for sick wildlife for 17 years.

"Australian Seabird Rescue was formed due to pelicans becoming entangled in fishing line," she said.

"Most seabirds we see are suffering from fishing line entanglement or ingestion and the turtles suffer from many ailments.

"Thirty per cent of turtles have swallowed plastic, and are suffering from float syndrome which is caused from a build-up of gas in their stomachs or coelemic cavity.

"The gas can be caused from plastic ingestion, infection or parasites."

The most shocking case of plastic ingestion by a sea turtle washed up in June 2011 when 317 pieces of plastic were found in the digestive tract of the carcass.

On a happier note, the centre has a very high success rate with rehabilitating pelicans from fishing line entanglement.

"Often, the birds do not even need to come back into care. They are rescued and released on the spot," Kathrina says.

"We have a 40% success rate at rehabilitating and releasing sea turtles."

The centre relies on volunteers, and also has helpers supplied by Work for the Dole who build up their own skills to seek work elsewhere.

"We will probably need more volunteers around March," Kathrina said.

"At present, with our school holiday tours and lots of turtles in care, our time is taken up with this, but by March we should have time to train some new volunteers.

"We interview all new perspective volunteers so, if you want to volunteer, please send an email to admin@seabirdrescue.org to organise a time for an interview."

Anyone wanting to support the centre can also make a donation on the website.

What you can do to protect seabirds and turtles:

  • Refuse plastic when possible, reduce your use of plastic, recycle. Take your own reusable bags shopping and cut your use of plastic bags.
  • Pick up rubbish on the beach, or anywhere you go.
  • Always take fishing line and bait bags home with you and put in the appropriate bin.
  • Educate others on the dangers of plastic to marine wildlife.
  • Get involved in local beach clean-ups and wildlife rescue groups locally.

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