Townsville research centre to protect reef turtles
A turtle health research centre will officially open in Townsville, five years after a cyclone caused many to starve to death and left researchers puzzled by their demise.
The centre is undertaking groundbreaking research to help protect the Great Barrier Reef’s endangered turtles.
The species’ immune system is the primary focus, while their vision and memory is also being put under the microscope.
Researchers realised how little they knew about turtle health following Cyclone Yasi in 2011.
The category five cyclone left scores of turtles stranded, with many starving to death.
James Cook University Associate Professor Ellen Ariel said her research team was only able to save half of the 30 turtles it took in.
« They were skinny, they started eating and they died, » she told AAP.
« We saved about half but were left with a lot of questions. Why did they die, what did we do wrong and what we should be doing? »
Researchers began to investigate and Assoc Prof Ariel said it soon became apparent a centre was needed to allow them to examine turtle health over a period of time.
In February this year, the centre started its research with 40 green turtle hatchlings.
The turtles are housed in tanks, taken out most days to bask in the sun for some vitamin D, and are fed a diet of fish, squid and vegetables.
Assoc Prof Ariel said it was important the turtles were kept healthy so researchers could properly examine their immune system.
Researchers have also been studying whether turtles have colour vision, how they learn, and their memory, she said.
Scientists and indigenous leaders will be among those at the centre’s official opening on Wednesday.