Rescuing our Flipper-ed Friends

World Wildlife Fund Australia has joined forces with North Queensland communities and JCU students to help save one of Australia’s most beloved animals; the marine turtle.  

By Amanda Carter

WWF-Australia has put together a documentary called ‘Sending the Gungu Home’.  The documentary is about the local communities fight to stop turtles from dying of starvation and the deadly ‘fibropapilloma’ virus.

JCU Marine Biology graduate, James Sherwood, is one of those helping out our flipper-ed friends.

RESCUER: James Sherwood

TURTLE RESCUER:  JCU’s James Sherwood

“WWF-Australia felt that it was critical to film it’s work with the turtles and the local community, to try and give what is happening to turtles some wider exposure in Australia,” James said.

The documentary features locals from North Queensland such as the Queens Beach Action Group, individuals from James Cook University and Reef HQ Townsville and Indigenous people from the Bowen Area.

“WWF-Australia felt that it was critical to film its work with the turtles and the local community, to try and give what is happening to turtles some wider exposure in Australia,”  James said.

As well as being a marine biology graduate, James has also helped WWF-Australia by filming and editing video of turtles in the past. He said he believes this gives him the chance to combine his two passions together.

“Being involved in this project was of personal importance to me as I just graduated from my Bachelors of Marine Science at James Cook University earlier this year.WWF-Australia and James Cook University work closely together, so it felt good to be involved,” James said.

The fibropapilloma virus is known to create ‘cauliflower like’ tumors on the soft tissue of infected turtles. This can also include growth on vital internal organs.  Unfortunately, researchers don’t know much of how marine turtles come to be infected with the virus.

On Thursday 23rd of May, WWF-Australia announced a $36,000 grant towards the JCU turtle health research program. This grant is aimed in helping researchers gain a better understanding of marine turtles and the fibropapilloma virus.

“We hope this funding will help turtles such as those featured in our recent documentary, Sending the Gungu Home, and those turtles suffering from the fibro-papilloma virus outbreak at Bowen,” WWF-Australia spokesperson Darren Grover said.

“These animals should live to well over 100 years, but they are dying much younger than that, because of a whole range of pressures, such as from pollution run off, which is wiping out critical feeding areas,” Mr Grover said.

All those involved with the project hope the funding will help them get one step closer to saving this iconic and beloved Australian creature.

‘Sending the Gungu Home’ has been announced as a finalist in the Aurora Short Film Festival awards for 2013. People can vote for the documentary online. If the film wins its category, it will be a great opportunity to help gain recognition for the cause and help Australia’s favourite flipper-ed friends from becoming extinct in the near future.

“Let’s hope we win – as a win for us, is a win for the turtles,” James said.