Reef HQ Aquarium has come up with a simple cure for turtles that react badly to winter’s colder water temperatures: give them a break in a heated turtle spa.
Winter is the busiest time of year for the facility’s turtle hospital, with admissions increasing from one or two a month during the warmer weather to one or two a week when temperatures drop.
As turtles are cold-blooded, a sudden drop in water temperature means their body temperatures also fall. This can suppress their immune system and exacerbate any illness they may already have, such as a lung infection or parasite infestation.
Aquarist Krystal Huff said the turtle hospital aims to turn the health of these animals around by placing them in a treatment tank that contains water heated up to a balmy 28 degrees Celsius.
"Six turtles have been admitted since the beginning of May, but as temperatures drop we expect reports of sick animals to increase,” she said.
“The colder water poses a few dangers for turtles. It tends to make them swim more slowly, which means they’re less able to avoid predators and more prone to being hit by boats. As a consequence, it’s important to take care if you see them while you’re out on the water.
“Some of these turtles seek out warmer, shallow areas of water along the beach and many people mistake them as being sick and stranded and sometimes they are. It’s important that people call the 1300 ANIMAL hotline so a ranger or a trained community group can assess the turtle.
“If a turtle is admitted, they’re put in a warm water treatment tank where they can spend anywhere between two weeks and 18 months, depending on their condition and how they respond. It gives them a good chance to recover from any illness.’’
One of the most common turtle afflictions reported by the public is ‘floating syndrome’ where turtles have gas trapped inside their bodies, usually from a blockage in their gut.
Floating syndrome prevents turtles from diving for food and leaves them more exposed to predators and temperature extremes, while also putting them at greater risk of boat strike.
People are encouraged to report sick or injured turtles on the Marine Stranding Hotline 1300 ANIMAL(264 625).