Sea Turtle Conservationists Fear Pesticides are Making Sea Turtles ill in Northern NSW


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Sea Turtle Conservationists Fear Pesticides are Making Sea Turtles ill in Northern NSW (Australia)

by Raffaella Ciccarelll, May 21, 2019

Sea turtles released as mystery pollutant causes animals to 'float'
Returned to the open ocean, in an instant the green sea turtle was gone.

The release at Woolgoolga headland on NSW’s mid-North coast, was the second performed that day and went off without a hitch.

For the past four months, the animal had been confined to a tank at Dolphin Marine Conservation Park in Coffs Harbor, recovering from buoyancy issues caused by a build-up of internal gasses.

These two green sea turtles were released back into the wild after recovering from buoyancy issues. (Raffaella Ciccarelli)

It's becoming more common in sea turtles found in northern NSW.

“We can’t say exactly what is causing the buoyancy issues, that’s the great question,” vet Duan March, a director of the Sea Turtle Foundation, told

“But sadly, the only way to treat ‘float’, is to wait it out.”
March believes the extensive use of pesticides in the agriculturally-rich region could be playing its part in making these turtles ill.

“Turtles have been around for hundreds of millions of years, so they are pretty good at adapting to the marine environment,” he said.

“If we are seeing sick turtles, it’s normally something that we’re doing; whether it’s anthropogenic runoff, or marine debris or just a boat strike.”

Vet Duan March tends to his patients at feeding time. (Raffaella Ciccarelli)

In 2017, researchers found heart and gout medication, along with herbicides and other industrial chemicals in the blood stream of green sea turtles on the Great Barrier Reef.

“Living as they do in coastal bays, green turtles are directly impacted by human activity. What we put down our sinks, the chemicals we use on land and what’s washed off our roads ends up in the ocean, threatening the clean water that turtles need to survive,” researchers said in a statement.

If gasses do build up causing float, it usually means a death sentence for turtles in the wild.

“When sea turtles are buoyant in the water, they can’t dive, and when they can’t dive they get washed around by waves. Eventually they get hit by a boat or are washed into rocks, ” March said.

This is what happened to “Flip”. The green sea turtle was brought in with a fractured under-shell after being slammed against rocks.

March didn't hold high hopes for 'Flip' but against the odds the green sea turtle pulled through. (Raffaella Ciccarelli)

Jeremy Brown, Co-Founder of Ocean Protect – a company who designs, install and maintain stormwater treatment infrastructure – believes that stormwater runoff is the biggest threat facing our oceans.

“Stormwater runoff can make any marine animal ill. It’s the largest source of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans,” he told

“If you go just up the road to Moreton Bay, which is only four hours north of Coffs Harbour, 30 per cent of dead sea turtles have stomachs full of plastic. Globally, over 50 per cent of sea turtles have ingested plastic,” he said pointing to estimates made by University of Queensland researcher Dr Qamar Schuyler.

An unfortunate jellyfish is snapped up for dinner by a green turtle off Byron Bay. Turtles often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish. ( Craig Parry/Barcroft Media via Getty)

“But whilst plastic is part of the issue, so too are pollutants including sediments, heavy metals, nitrogen, phosphorous and cigarette butts that, like plastic, flow to the ocean with stormwater runoff,” he said.

Both March and Brown said the impact of stormwater runoff and pesticides on sea turtle health was one that needed more study.

“Sea turtles are very stoic critters, it’s very hard to tell a healthy turtle from a sick turtle. Trying to reverse-engineer back and figure out the cause of the problem – that’s the real challenge,” March said.

Asked if they were aware of any pollution around Coffs Harbour, a spokesperson for the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicine Authority told “This issue has not been raised with the APVMA. The APVMA reviews registered chemical products when new, credible scientific evidence emerges that suggests that there may be changes in the risks to human, animal, or environmental health.”


The member formerly known as captain awesome
10 Year Member!
Aug 15, 2008
Location (City and/or State)
So what I gathered from this is they don't know what js causing it. Just guesses right now.