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Yoda the 'underwater labrador' returns to her rightful home

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A 117kg-kilogram green sea turtle named Yoda is returned to the sea, five months after she was found covered in barnacles, underweight, sunburnt and dehydrated.

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A green sea turtle that washed up on a remote central Queensland beach has returned to the sea — five months, and $4,000 worth of food later.

When Yoda was delivered to the Quoin Island Turtle Rehabilitation Centre in November 2019 she was covered in barnacles, was sunburnt, dehydrated and weighing a measly 87kg.

But in the five months since then, Yoda has made a full recovery and packed on 30kg.

The centre has rescued and rehabilitated more than 200 turtles since 2011 and owner, Bob McCosker, said Yoda was the most interactive of them all.

“She just loved her scratches and tickles and she would grab your hand with her rear flippers and hold on while you scratched her,” he said.

“She’s just loved human interaction.”

‘Equivalent of a labrador’

Marine biologist, Liam Turner, has been a caretaker at the turtle rehabilitation centre since Yoda was brought into care.

“She’s a bit different to everybody else — she’s the equivalent of a labrador under the water,” he said.

“Since she’s started to get a bit healthier, she’s started to get a little less touchy-feely with us, which is a good sign that she’s sick of her pool life and she wants to go back into the wild.”

Green sea turtles normally feast on seagrasses and algae in the wild, but sick turtles need extra protein to recover.

Turner said Yoda was not fussed about becoming a carnivore.

“She was obviously quite underweight when she got here, quite skinny, so she had a while to go in terms of putting on all that weight,” he said.

“She took to eating squid pretty quickly though, within a few days she was eating.

“She was like a hoover vacuum. As soon as she started eating she was just putting on weight.”

Yoda transitioned from the centre’s intensive care tanks into the pool in a matter of weeks.

‘A rewarding feeling’

Yoda’s release was particularly special for Turner and his wife, Hayley Coen, as it was the first large turtle they had released since becoming caretakers on the island.

“It’s a rewarding feeling seeing a turtle come in and see it go out the other side,” he said.

“This might sound weird but I don’t want to see her again — I mean that in a good way.”

Although McCosker has rehabilitated many turtles in the last nine years, he still felt a mixture of happiness and sadness to see Yoda make her way into the ocean.

“I just hope that she doesn’t run into a fisherman or a boat, that’s the primary thing,” he said.

“I hope that she lays lots of eggs.

“In the next 10 to 20 years of her life that’s still left, she’ll nest at potentially another 10 times — that’s potentially another thousand eggs.

“So out of that, one turtle can survive.”

Fishers the biggest danger

McCosker said recreational fisherman were the most common threat to turtles like Yoda.

“That’s the biggest danger in the ocean,” he said.

“They kill thousands of these animals every year and they know nothing about it.”

McCosker said it was not fisherman trying to catch the endangered turtles that was the biggest concern.

“There’s a constant risk with discarded fishing line, where people have cut off 50 or 100 metres at a time, they get wrapped in it.

“We’ve got a number of animals with amputated limbs because of it.

“It’s not just the fishing hook, it’s the fishing lines that they leave behind and the boat strikes.”

McCosker hopes Yoda’s release sends a message to those out on the water.

“Bring your rubbish home,” he said.

“Don’t let the fishing line stay in the water, or the hooks or the crab pots.

“Fishing line; it’s going to stay there for another 1,000 years so we’ve got that issue to face over a long, long time yet, so just be careful. Be mindful.”

– ABC / Erin Semmler

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