Weather patterns, climate change, pollution or environment factors are suspects, but there is no definitive answer for the record number of stranded marine turtles arriving on Far North beaches in recent weeks.
(The image is showing Lester Bridson from DOC Kaitaia inserting a drip with a special rehydration solution into a hawksbill turtle. The turtles are generally suffering from dehydration and hypothermia when found.)
A hawksbill and a green turtle found washed up on Ninety Mile beach today are the latest arrivals, bringing the total number of stranded turtles in the Far North this year to six. This is a significant increase compared to an average of one or two stranded turtles in previous recorded years.
Turtle researcher, Massey University’s Dan Godoy has no explanation for why so many turtles are coming ashore this year.
“It could be last years La Nina weather patterns or factors in the islands where they come from, but I have no definite ideas,” says Mr Godoy.
A lack of knowledge about turtles in New Zealand’s waters is one of the reasons for Mr Godoy’s reluctance to speculate on possible causes for the current stranding situation.
Mr Godoy says that the turtles don’t breed in our waters, and funding restrictions as well as a lack of large resident turtle populations, means that scientists have to rely on stranding data to help them understand more about these critically endangered species.
“That’s why the community’s help is crucial in our ability to find out more about turtles in New Zealand,” says Mr Godoy.
Mr Godoy was in the Far North last week hosting a roadshow about turtles as part of the Department of Conservation’s Far North Conservation Week programme.
DOC community relations programme manager in Kaitaia, Carolyn Smith says the aim of the roadshow was to increase people’s understanding about marine turtles.
“Even the fact we have turtles in the Far North was news to some,” she says.
Ngawari Benson helping with the
rehydration of a hawksbill turtle
Mr Godoy praised the work of DOC and the Far North communities in their efforts to help stranded marine turtles.
“Because the public is letting DOC know when they find turtles, DOC staff have been able to rescue them and send them to Kelly Tarleton’s for rehabilitation. It also means I have more information to help gain a better understanding of marine turtles in New Zealand. It’s a fantastic example of the value of DOC, communities and scientists working together to help a critically endangered species,” Mr Godoy says.
DOC also praised the support of the Kaitaia airport staff and Air New Zealand, who provide free travel to Auckland for the turtles.
“The team at Kaitaia are very committed to helping the turtles. They organise passengers to keep an eye on them during the flights and to hand the turtles over to Kelly Tarleton’s staff on arrival. Without their support it would be very difficult to try to save the turtles,” says Ms Smith.
Anyone who sees a marine turtle, whether alive or dead, is urged to contact their local DOC office as soon as possible, or call the 24 hour emergency line 0800 DOC HOTline (0800 362 468).