Traditional Owners release rehabilitated turtle

Traditional Owners and Reef managers will release a rehabilitated turtle into the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park near Ingham tomorrow (Thursday 17 May 2012).

The 25kg green sea turtle will be released at Forrest Beach, close to where it was found stranded nearly a year ago.

The Ingham resident who found the sick turtle will be at the event, along with members of the Nywaigi Traditional Owner Group and staff from Reef HQ Aquarium's Turtle Hospital, where the turtle was nursed back to health.

Reef HQ Aquarium Director Fred Nucifora said the turtle was in very poor condition and had floating syndrome when it arrived at the Turtle Hospital in June last year.

"We named it Gary Gungu out of respect for Gary Prior, the man who reported it, and because 'Gungu' means turtle in the language of the regional Traditional Owners," Mr Nucifora said.

“Mr Prior has maintained an interest in Gary Gungu's rehabilitation and I'm pleased he will witness the turtle's return to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

"It's also fantastic that the Traditional Owners of this area have taken such a strong interest in this turtle and are taking part in its release."

Jacob Cassady, a member of the Nywaigi Traditional Owner Group, said his people would gather on the beach to celebrate the release of Gary Gungu back into its sea country.

"We want to send forth our hopes that it will 'live strong'," Mr Cassady said.

"That turtle has a spiritual connection to us and we want it to live a strong and healthy life. We don't want to see any more sick turtles on country."

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Indigenous Partnerships Group Director Liz Wren said Nywaigi Traditional Owners had a strong record of looking after sea country.

"The Nywaigi Traditional Owners are one of six saltwater groups represented by the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation, which was the first organisation to implement a Traditional Use of Marine Resources Agreement," Ms Wren said.

These formal agreements describe how Traditional Owner groups work with government to manage Traditional Use activities in sea country, such as their take of turtle and dugong.

"The Nywaigi Traditional Owners have temporarily suspended hunting of turtle in recognition of the stress the turtle population was placed under following cyclone Yasi,” she said.

"This is one of several actions they're implementing to protect these iconic animals that were affected by extreme weather over the 2010-11 summer."