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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Endangered Turtles Released at Lord Howe Island


In an Australian first, two Loggerhead Turtles have been fitted with satellite trackers at Taronga Zoo and released off the shores of Lord Howe Island, in an attempt to unlock the migration secrets of this endangered marine animal.

After being handed in to the Department of Environment and Conservation, Taronga Wildlife Hospital has been caring for the two young turtles since April last year until they reached a size that would give them the best chance of survival when released into the ocean.

The turtles were flown to Lord Howe Island – 700km northeast of Sydney - courtesy of QantasLink. Representatives of Taronga Zoo and Lord Howe Island Marine Park management released them off-shore from the island on Friday, January 22.

World Heritage-listed Lord Howe Island was chosen as the ideal release site for its location as the most easterly point of Australia (yet only two hours' flight from Sydney), where the Tasman Drift meets the warmer waters of the Eastern Australian current, assisting the turtles on their northerly migration to join their brethren.

The same confluence of currents is responsible for Lord Howe's unique marine ecosystem, and for the island's ranking among the world's best diving destinations. Lord Howe's lagoon and surrounding waters shelter the world's most southerly coral reef, with some 90 species of coral and 500 species of fish, many of which are found nowhere else.

There are seven species of marine turtles in the world; six occur in Australian waters and two – Green and Hawksbill turtles – can readily be seen in the Lord Howe Island lagoon, where they 'hang out' in the channel.

"We often see a dozen or more large turtles within minutes of starting our glass bottom boat tours," said Anthony Riddle, operator of Marine Adventures. Large rays, colourful fish and corals are also easily seen in the crystalline waters of the lagoon, either from the boat or snorkelling. Tours also include guided walks to see the thousands of seabirds that make Lord Howe one of the world's best seabird-watching destinations.

This is the first time Loggerhead Turtles have been tracked in the South Pacific: until now, little was known of the turtles' journey after they leave Australian waters. World-renowned turtle researcher, George Balasz from the National Marine Fisheries Service in Honolulu, donated the satellite trackers and flew to Australia to help Taronga Zoo staff fit them to the turtles ahead of their release.

Via the satellites on their back, the Loggerheads will literally log-in daily, sending data on their location to the Taronga Wildlife Hospital and George Balasz.

"The implications of the research could be huge. Similar studies conducted off foreign shores have played a vital role in protecting various marine species. Main threats to turtles include entanglement in fishing nets and accidental by-catch of long-line fishing, whilst boat strikes are also common," explained Taronga Wildlife Hospital Manager, Libby Hall.

Further information: www.lordhoweisland.info.
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