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Rescuer bids farewell to turtle job

JOE DAWSON
Last updated 05:00 12/03/2014
Matt Harvey
JOHN SELKIRK

MOVING ON: Aquarist Matt Harvey has said goodbye to his friends at Kelly Tarlton’s after 13 years.

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After more than a dozen years rescuing stricken turtles and caring for other sea creatures at Kelly Tarlton's, Matt Harvey has called time on his underwater career.

The former aquarist left his role three weeks ago to pursue a new career as a quarantine inspector.

He'd become a familiar face at the Tamaki Drive tourist attraction and Mr Harvey says the time had come for him to bid farewell to the place and all of its inhabitants.

Mr Harvey trained in tourism management and worked in all aspects of the Kelly Tarlton's business including as a penguin keeper, fix-it man, front-of-house manager and stingray feeder.

Over the last three years he managed the rehabilitation programme for sea turtles, helping return stranded turtles found on New Zealand beaches to health before releasing them back to the wild. This proved to be satisfying and sad in equal measure.

"Effectively any stranded marine turtle would end up with us, and because they are endangered species we'd put them through a programme for release.

"Usually they were really sick by the time we got them and had to go through a four-stage programme with the eventual goal to release them back into the wild.

"We see them seasonally but they should never be on a beach in our country - if they are they're really sick.

"The problem is whether people find them on a beach or not - they wash up in some pretty remote spots."

Only 40 per cent of those that make it to the programme survive - most are too ill to recover.

"But it is very satisfying if you can get them through it and release them at the Poor Knights or up north."

He says he will remember the once-in-a-lifetime job fondly.

"I don't think there are many places in the world where I will get to handle live turtles or work closely with stingrays, swim daily with a living shark, or hang with penguins.

"It's very rare to do that stuff.

"And the amount of people I deal with daily I will miss, and providing those conservation messages and getting rid of some of those fears.

"You hope you've made an impact."

If you find a marine turtle on a beach, contact your local DOC office on 0800 HOT DOC.

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- East And Bays Courier

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