Eco Hero: Saving Sea Turtles With Marine Biologist Jennie Gilbert

Fitzroy island sea turtles
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Thanks to the passion and dedication of marine biologist Jennie Gilbert there is now a sea turtle rehabilitation centre on Fitzroy Island near Cairns. Visitors to the island can go to the centre for a small fee to find out more about the incredible work being done to save the Great Barrier Reef’s sick or injured turtles.  

Jennie Gilbert tickling one of her turtle patientsThere are many marine biologists living and working on the Great Barrier Reef and die-hard turtle crusader Jennie Gilbert is one of the most well known.

When you meet Jennie you can’t help but admire her. She is totally dedicated and single-minded in her intention to save sea turtles and it makes you want to jump on board and do whatever you can to help.

Her love of sea turtles first began when she was living in Papua New Guinea. One day she was at the local markets and saw a stall selling turtles. She says she felt so sorry for them she decided to buy one and let it go.

Back in Cairns a few years later, someone brought 50 turtle eggs they had found into her husband’s vet clinic. Jennie helped hatch them and she fell so in love with the turtles that her new career was also hatched.

turtle rehabilitation centre

Jennie became the co-founder of the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre and works tirelessly to ensure sick or injured turtles in Far North Queensland are given vet treatment and rehabilitation back to health.

Turtles arrive in her care for many reasons ranging from floaters syndrome and starvation through to boat strikes and being bitten by sharks or crocodiles.

cairns sea turtles being releasedWhen they first arrive they are usually cared for at an ‘intensive care turtle hospital’ facility in Cairns where there is easier access to medical treatments.

Once they’re no longer considered critical and not suffering from stress, they are moved to a new facility on Fitzroy Island to convalesce and fatten up before being released.

On Fitzroy Island there are seven turtle tanks that accommodate up to 10 turtles at any one time.

Rehabilitation can last anywhere from six months to three years and when they’re ready they are released back out to sea in the same place they were found (watch video of Betty and Barney being released).

an expensive habit

Rehabilitating sea turtles is an expensive business.

The food bill alone for feeding the sea turtles is around $2500 a month, and most of the turtles also require medical treatments such as x-rays, blood samples or surgery. But despite the cost Jennie would never turn down a turtle in need.

The rehabilitation centre doesn’t receive any Government funding so it relies entirely on donations and the generous support of volunteers.

The new facility on Fitzroy Island was made possible by Doug Gamble, the owner of Fitzroy Island Resort and keen environmentalist, who is a supporter of Jennie’s work and donated the land.

Other local business owners and organisations help out by sponsoring individual turtles through a turtle adoption scheme.

The centre also survives on the help of volunteers. Four to five volunteers come in each day to clean tanks, feed turtles and assist with treatments.

Visitors to Fitzroy Island can visit the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre for a small fee.

If you would like to make a significant donation, Jennie is also happy to take people on a guided tour behind the scenes and let you get involved in scrubbing turtle backs and cleaning poo out of the tanks!

travel nq fast facts:

  • There are 7 different types of sea turtles in the world, 6 of which are found in Australia.
  • The 6 different types of sea turtles here are Green, Loggerhead, Hawksbill, Flatback, Leatherback and the Olive Ridley sea turtle.
  • Sea turtles eat seaweed, seagrass and crustaceans
  • They have similar life spans to humans

logo of turtle rehabilitation centre

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