Endangered turtles' second chance

Last updated 16:00 14/02/2012

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The holiday has ended for two turtles pampered back to health at Auckland's Kelly Tarlton's over the past six months.

Ron and Noggin will be released off Northland's Poor Knight Islands tomorrow after beaching on New Zealand shores last year.

Kelly Tarlton's aquarist Mathew Harvey says the turtles have enjoyed a stress-free existence since being adopted by the underground aquarium.

"It's like a motel - they basically have clean water, no predators and plenty of free food so we've been trying to bulk them up, so they're fit, they've got a lot of nutrients behind them before their release."

Ron is a critically-endangered hawksbill turtle, a species Harvey says is a rare find in New Zealand, who was found on 90 Mile Beach in August.

"They're not entirely sure why he's down here, they can surf the currents."

He says due to the cold, Ron, whose natural home is in the tropics, was lethargic, malnourished and prone to infection when he was found.

Water currents where Ron is being released could take him north but are warm enough in the event he's shy and wants to hang around, Harvey says.

Noggin, who got his name because of a mark he had on his head when found, is a Green Turtle, which are more common in our waters.

Harvey says nothing was seriously wrong with Noggin when he was located on Muriwai Beach in October but it was too cold to release him.

He explains the pair have their own personalities, especially around feeding time.

"Noggin is just like a barrel, a big-chested turtle.

"The way he feeds, he just races in and chews and chews and chews. He loves his food.

"Ron's a bit more shy, hawksbills are generally a bit more timid. They like to hide in caves and sort of watch from a distance."

Harvey says the pair will be transported to Tutukaka by van in padded bins.

"Once you get them out of the water, they're obviously not built for the land, so they flap around for a bit but then they just relax on a towel in their bins with padding, they just relax for however long it's going to take us.

"When we've got them we've had them for days out of the water before we even get them [to Kelly Tarlton's] so they can survive for a fair bit of time out of the water."

The main task for the team accompanying the pair is to keep them hydrated.

Once in Tutukaka, a charter boat will take the turtles and their entourage 23km off-shore to the Poor Knights marine sanctuary, where Harvey says they'll find a sheltered spot to release them.

"We'll potentially have a diver and a couple of snorkelers in the water just to keep an eye on them when they take off.

"But as soon as they get in the water they're gone, they usually disappear into the wild blue."

In the past satellite tagged turtles have been shown to make it all the way to South America within a year of release.

Harvey says at around 10 years of age Noggin and Ron are barely teenagers and could live for up to 100 years, as long as sharks or humans don't kill them first.

He says all seven species of sea turtle are endangered - largely due to pollution and fishing.

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Kelly Tarlton's has two turtles which will be released later this summer and three more which still need nursing.

"We have three that we're going to keep for the next winter season because they're just not quite ready.

"Two were very small and one had ingested rope so we're still working to see he's fit and healthy."

- Auckland Now


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