Reef trip turtley awesome adventure

James Cook University researchers have released 12 Green turtles for their first foray into the wild, as efforts continue to study their unique behaviours.

Researchers from JCU’s Turtle Health Research Facility journeyed to the Great Barrier Reef last week for the big event, courtesy of marine park rangers.

Together with Department of Environment and Science staff, researchers released the turtles and filmed them underwater to study how the turtles reacted to being in the ocean for the first time.

Born in the northern Great Barrier Reef, the turtles were transported by DES staff to the Facility in March 2019, where a number of behavioural and immunology studies were conducted.

“We wanted to know more about this stage of their life, which are also known as the ‘lost years’,” Facility laboratory manager and JCU lecturer Jessica Grimm said.

“The final result is then just bringing them out to the Reef, releasing them and seeing what they do.”

Ms Grimm, who is also the lead researcher on this behavioural project, said it was interesting to observe the behaviour of the turtles once released.

“Two of them went down and started munching on the algae that was growing on some coral and one swam right under the ledge of a coral and started scraping his carapace (shell) across the back of it,” she elaborated.

“After watching the turtles grow up at our facility from when they were hatchlings for almost three years, it’s a bittersweet moment releasing them. It’s exciting to see them swim in the ocean for the first time – it’s a proud parent moment but it’s also sad because we’ve been with the turtles their entire lives.

“But we are really excited to see what their next adventure will be now that they’re out here on the Reef.”

JCU researchers did a similar study and release with Hawksbill turtles earlier this year.

Facility Director Professor Ellen Ariel said she was thrilled with the team effort that ensured a successful release of turtles.

“To see the different agencies that came together to facilitate this release by bringing these turtles out to the Reef is just wonderful,” she said.

“Now it’s time for them to go and enjoy life.”

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