MARINE HEALTH: Dr Duan March rehabilitating turtles at Dolphin Marine Conservation Park.
MARINE HEALTH: Dr Duan March rehabilitating turtles at Dolphin Marine Conservation Park. TREVOR VEALE

Mystery - what ails turtles?

PLASTIC pollution is devastating for our oceans, but it's not the main threat to turtles on the Coffs Coast, says one local expert.

Veterinarian Duane March has been rehabilitating and researching turtles in the region for 10 years, and has only found plastic inside one of them.

Out of the hundreds of sick animals the team at Dolphin Marine Conservation Park rehabilitate, unfortunately there are many that cannot be saved, and autopsies are conducted to determine the cause of death.

"We've only seen one turtle die of plastic ingestion. So there's no smoking gun.

A turtle with floating syndrome at Dolphin Marine Magic.
A turtle with floating syndrome at Dolphin Marine Magic. TREVOR VEALE

"Plastic ingestion gets a lot of airtime in regard to disease with these marine turtles but it's not a problem for us here," Dr March said.

"I don't have a problem with the rhetoric because plastic is bad, but it's not the issue here in Coffs."

But something is causing chronic disease in the population with many suffering from what has been termed 'floating syndrome' where a turtle is buoyant and stuck at the water's surface, unable to dive.

It is a serious condition because they can't access food at lower depths and can starve to death.

It also makes them more susceptible to propeller strikes.

The syndrome has been linked to plastic ingestion, which blocks the gastrointestinal tract and prevents food being properly digested but again Dr March asserts this is not the major problem locally.

"So there's something out there that's compromising the health of these guys," Dr March said.

Turtles found closer to shore are in worse shape than those further out so he believes nutrient run-off could be a factor but more research needs to be done.

"There's no doubt that in urban waterways we see an increase in disease. So run-off is obviously going to be a big one and nitrogen can play a huge role in disease so that's something we are looking at at the moment."

A turtle with floating syndrome being rehabilitated at Dolphin Marine Magic in Coffs Harbour.
A turtle with floating syndrome being rehabilitated at Dolphin Marine Magic in Coffs Harbour. TREVOR VEALE

He is also concerned about the possible impact of pesticides and welcomes the news that Bellingen Shire councillor Toni Wright-Turner is calling for a review of weed management across the shire noting renewed health and safety concerns about the use of glyphosate-based Roundup.

"We're looking at how we can better test for Roundup.

"It's very frustrating as it's one of the most widely used herbicides in the world and you can't test for it in tissue - labs just don't do it."

Dolphin Marine Magic released three turtles over the weekend following a particularly tough season.

"We had an extended period of cold water and poor visibility which meant more turtles on the beach."
 



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