A Turtle Retreat
There’s an island just off the coast of Gladstone, offering a retreat for both humans and turtles alike. I spent a couple of nights with Bob McCosker and one of his dedicated volunteers to check out their new facility for the injured turtles in central Queensland.
We arrived to meet Bob McCosker at his headquarters in Gladstone. Bob is the man behind Quoin Island Turtle Rehabilitation Centre which officially opened just two years ago when he saw a need for somewhere for injured turtles which were too frequently washing up in the area. Quoin Island Turtle Rehabilitation Centre is Gladstone’s first permanent marine turtle rehabilitation facility, being fully open and operational since March of 2012. Previously, injured sea turtles would have had to travel with carers much further for treatment if they washed up in these waters with no rehabilitation facility within 500km of Gladstone Harbour.
Only minutes into our introductions, we were handed the latest little casualty wrapped in a towel who had come in overnight from a member of the public in Yeppoon. We needed to get him over to the facility quickly so he could be assessed and care could be given to him right away. There was hardly any weight when he was bundled up in my arms, it was instantly clear that this turtle was very weak. He peered out from under the towel with those amazing black turtle eyes, and his flipper poised by his side like a graceful ballerina.
We jumped into Sealegs, Bob’s method of transportation back to his home on Quoin Island. Just a 5 minute ride from Gladstone, we landed at the rehabilitation centre and had the little turtle admitted to the examination room. Here we met Kymberley, the full-time volunteer on the island who began sizing him up and assessing his condition. While Kymberley and Bob tended to the little patient, I began asking questions about the facility and how it came about. There was no time to sit and chat over a cuppa, time was of the essence to save our injured turtle, who by this stage had been named Charlie. Charlie, after the name of the caring man who had brought him into care. This was recorded on his file along with his measurements and his condition. These details will later go on a government log along with all of the other rescued turtles from around the state.
It was all hands on deck to make Charlie comfortable. He was very thin, his backbone was poking out through his neck. It was clear he had not eaten for a while. Bob estimated it to be around 6 months since he had eaten his last meal. We wondered how long he had been helplessly trying to stay alive fighting his way through currents or fighting off predators in this condition. The other obvious sign that he was unwell was that he was covered in thousands of barnacles. Under his belly, and all over his flippers, this is something that would have made him very uncomfortable. We began the tedious task to pick them off him one at a time. It took four of us nearly three hours to make a dent in the coverage. We got as many off as we thought he could endure before it was time for him to be put on a drip and attempt a feed.
During this process, Bob’s partner Julie, kept popping in asking when we would be coming in for dinner. By this stage it was around 9pm. Bob wasn’t going to rest until he could do all he could for little Charlie. I watched him work away in wonderment, the guy had just spent the day at his regular job back on the mainland, and without even stopping worked away without another thought to save Charlie. I wondered how often he had to do this, and I was impressed by his dedication. When I asked Bob about his prediction for Charlie’s survival his eyes seemed to well up as he said that it did not look promising. He also told me what it was like to lose one he’d worked hard to save. I could tell that Bob cared a great deal for these animals and could see why he fought through the red tape to set up this facility which was not an easy feat initially with the government.
Kymberley had prepared an isolation pool for Charlie to spend the night. Bob placed Charlie in there doing all he could do before it was up to Charlie to fight through. We attempted to feed him some fish on a paddle pop stick, but he didn’t appear to be strong enough to want to eat. We closed the lid on his pool, and walked away keeping everything crossed for Charlie that he would make it through the night.
We had a little look around at the facility, which was quite simply amazing. There was a 9 metre swimming pool for the rehabilitated turtles awaiting release, which overlooked Gladstone harbour. All that the turtles would need to do is pop their heads out and they could actually see and smell the ocean. There is also a number of containment tanks and a dry dock room for treatment. The main turtles in the pool were green turtles at this time, but there was a little hawksbill named Ferdie receiving treatment too. He was gorgeous. Bob also told me at times, the facility has helped other marine animals including a dolphin who had been attacked by sharks.
We finally made it up to the resort, which is where Bob and his partner Jules call home. Kymberley, the 24-year old volunteer seems to be a big part of the family once she has clocked off with her day with the turtles. The Turtle Rehabilitation Centre lies within Quoin Island Retreat which Bob and his partner own. And it sure is a beautiful place to call home.
It was up at the main house where we learnt that turtles weren’t the only love of Bob and Julie. Before we ate, Bob said he needed to feed the wallabies, so we followed him out on to the lawn to be greeted by about 15 stunning pretty faced wallabies sitting patiently for his arrival. Many of these animals Bob had reared from joeys for numerous reasons. They live wild on the island, but sure know where to get food and shelter. There were also two kangaroos in the mix, who were more like puppy dogs. Bob gave them a lot of attention and later said that because they don’t have their mob to protect them like the wallabies do, he looks out for them a lot. It was clear these animals and Bob had a big connection, one of which sat up in his arms giving him a big cuddle.
After the wallaby feed, we ate, and finally had time for a chat with Bob and Julie about the turtles and their life on the island. I was surprised to hear that Bob had little to do with turtles before opening the facility. He is not a veterinarian, marine biologist or trained in any animal sciences like you would assume a necessity when caring for these animals. I was surprised to hear this, considering the wealth of knowledge he appeared to have in caring for these turtles. He has had the guidance from many other rescue organisations like Sea World to understand the basics of their care, but the things he has found out today he has learnt through being hands on.
In two short years, it was clear that Bob and his team had studied at the university of life, learning through his own experiences and common sense for the 80 or so turtles he’s cared for on Quoin Island. A lot of what Bob and I discussed reminded me of my own experiences in caring for Bona, an orphaned elephant. Like Bob, I had zero knowledge of what it took to care for an elephant, but I soon learnt that with a bit of common sense, guidance and being hands on that I learnt things about these animals that I couldn’t find in a text book. Each animal is individual, and therefore one rule doesn’t apply to all. It’s through trial and error, patience and common sense that you seem to best help these animals. And I was happy to hear that Bob had discovered this too.
After dinner, we were invited out to feed the sugar gliders, which are a big love of Julie’s. They were part of a breeding program from AACE, a program which the couple give a lot of assistance to, for the purpose of conservation and education. I was delighted to be given the opportunity to meet them. We followed Julie into the purpose built enclosure with a very low lit torch. Before too long, two tiny little critters were using us as jumping platforms as we sat not knowing where they would come from next. They were absolutely gorgeous little things. Julie really seemed to come alive when she was talking all things gliders. She has been a wildlife carer for many years, and you can really feel this area for her is a passion. We loved her stories of her life with the animals, including sharing their bed on many occasions with the wallabies and roos.
Before we called it a night, we were joined by Bob’s two gorgeous kangaroos who had come in for an evening scratch, before Bob headed out to feed the echidna (yes, there’s an echidna too) and we all called it a night. In the morning we were to be leaving Quoin Island after checking on Charlie and releasing two of the centre’s rehabilitated turtles back into the wild.
We woke early for breakfast to a gorgeous Quoin Island sunrise. After feeding the wallabies, we wandered down to meet Kymberley who gave us the sad news that Charlie didn’t make it through the night. This was very sad for everyone particularly Bob. I really felt like Charlie knew he was able to relax and he didn’t need to be on alert and fight for his life anymore. It was a nice feeling to know that he passed away peacefully and was not suffering. It made me wonder how many people out there, like Bob and his volunteers, would know how much work goes into trying to save just one turtle. Hours were spent giving as much help to Charlie as possible, and even he didn’t make it. I wish everyone could experience this for just one day before they carelessly allow plastic bags, fishing line or other harmful waste into our waters. Or for recreational boat owners who carelessly race around populated turtle habitats and threaten them with strikes.
On the upside we had a brighter day ahead, seeing the other side of this facility. We would be releasing some rehabilitated turtles back into the wild. Another involvement of Bobs, is overseeing the rehabilitation pools at the Gladstone Area Water Board (GAWB) back on the mainland which assist with any overflow of rescues in the area. We would be releasing the first and largest turtle cared for at the facility, Ange. We would also be releasing little Chloe who had been living on Quoin Island in the main rehabilitation pool. Together with Kymberley, we fed the turtles their morning feed and gave Chloe her last batch of pilchards and squid before she would have to fend for herself in the ocean once again. Kymberley who had helped with Chloe’s rehabilitation said it was days like these that make it all worthwhile to see them ready for the wild.
We headed over on Sealegs and helped load the 100kg turtle into the back of the car and on to the Quoin Island ferry. It took 5 grown men to carry her stretcher over their shoulder like a couple of pall bearers. She was an absolutely massive animal. The staff at the water board who had been caring for her said they knew she was ready for her send off because she was starting to throw her weight around with them a bit. And some weight did she have! Bob and the crew gave her one final check over, before she was carried to the side of the vessel and without hesitation she launched off the side. We saw her head pop up a few more times looking back. There were a lot of people on board who had been a part of her rehabilitation who were on board for her send off. It was great to see.
After Ange’s release, we headed back to Quoin Island to pick up Chloe. She was released off the eastern side of Quoin Island. She too received her final measurements and identification before being able to swim out to turtle freedom. She was placed on the sand and at full pace seemed to glide out into the water, taking a few last looks around before we didn’t see her again. As part of her send off party lining the shore, we all clapped and cheered. It was a great feeling to see the more happy side to the rehabilitation centre’s hard work. Chloe was the 42nd successful rehabilitation since Quoin Island Turtle Rehabilitation Centre has been in operation.
We had planned to head back to the mainland to pick up our kelpie we are travelling with from a carer and spend the night on the mainland. But of course, Bob and Julie wouldn’t have a bar of it and insisted we spend another night with them and the turtles. We crossed back to the mainland, collected our dog, ‘Dodge’, and were all back together again on Quoin Island for one more dinner together sharing wildlife stories. The best part about it was seeing Dodge’s reaction to Bob’s kangaroos. From a safe distance behind the glass, the two kangaroos interacted with Dodge which was quite hilarious to watch. They seemed to want to connect, and spent the rest of the night lying down side by side through the glass. Bob said the roos would have been wanting to come inside and watch TV, which is where they spend most evenings. I guess they weren’t too happy to see another 4-legged creature dining with their family!
Our time at Quoin Island Retreat got me thinking that this was more than a retreat for humans, this place is fast becoming a retreat for the turtles and other wildlife that call it home. Bob has fought through a lot of red tape to establish this facility, which is now a valuable asset to the region for marine life.
We thank Bob, Julie and Kymberley for their time showing us around the island, but most importantly thank them for their work in helping our marine life. If you’ve got an injured turtle from nearby the Quoin Island Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, please call 0408 431 304.