23 Oct 2013


Twenty-nine kilometres off Queensland’s Far North coast, Fitzroy Island is a popular tourist destination renowned for snorkelling and sea kayaking. It’s here, in the sheltered waters of the Great Barrier Reef that marine sea turtles regularly come in search of food. And it’s here that we have come to meet Bonnie and Clyde.

Bonnie and Clyde aren’t your average tourists. The green sea turtles have spent the past year at Fitzroy Island’s Turtle Rehabilitation Centre after being injured in separate incidents. Their tanks are effectively hospital beds – a place to stay while they recover. But life in ‘hospital’ on the island really isn’t too bad. Patients are regularly hand-fed by dedicated volunteers (who even peel their prawns for them!), they’re given all the necessary medical care and are even treated to the odd belly rub or back scratch (which they absolutely adore and are none too subtle about it!).

The Fitzroy Island facility is an extension of the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, making it Queensland’s largest volunteer turtle rehabilitation centre. Last year – with the help of our supporters, WWF-Australia donated $20,000 to help build this facility. This week we donated an additional $7,500 to help with ongoing costs. I believe this is money well spent.

Turtles have been dying in alarmingly high numbers, with near-record strandings in the last few years. We know the cyclones played their part. They wiped out huge areas of feeding ground. But what else is causing so many turtles to die? What’s making them sick? And what can we do to help? There is still so much we don’t know about these iconic creatures. If we want sea turtles to survive we need to learn more about them. And it’s facilities like the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre that can provide researchers with such an opportunity.

The more we learn about them, the better chance we have of protecting them. The Great Barrier Reef should be a safe haven for turtles. Instead, their habitat is shrinking. Their feeding grounds are being smothered by polluted run-off and they are forced to contend with getting tangled in fishing nets, boat strikes and swallowing marine litter.


Releasing sea turtles © lsah Dogruer / Entox / WWF-Aus

It’s no wonder turtles like Bonnie and Clyde need our help. People fall in love with turtles. Some of the Centre’s volunteers have flown halfway around the world to be here – to help save a species under threat.

For Jennie Gilbert too, saving turtles is personal. The co-founder of the facility has devoted more than a decade to Queensland’s sick and injured sea turtles and her enthusiasm is contagious. It’s been an absolute pleasure to support Jennie and help make her dream a reality.

Fortunately, for Bonnie and Clyde, their stay on Fitzroy Island was just temporary. After a year of TLC, their injuries healed. And at the weekend, with the help of Bob Irwin, we released Bonnie and Clyde back onto the Great Barrier Reef.

Seeing them go brought a mixture of emotions for many people on the beach. Laughter. Tears. Pride. And pure joy. Both Bonnie and Clyde happily swam away upon their release. They didn’t hang around. And neither looked back. Let’s hope they won’t be back here anytime soon.