Life is looking up for a critically ill green sea turtle found stranded on Auckland’s Piha Beach after almost two weeks of intensive care and treatment by our skilled and passionate veterinary team.

Nick-named Delta by our team, this sub-adult turtle, likely a female, was found on 11 September by a member of public and brought into the Zoo’s veterinary hospital by Auckland Council rangers. While she had no physical wounds, she was in extremely poor body condition, underweight at 9.5kg with a sunken in plastron (tummy), covered in algae and barnacles, and at the critically low body temperature of just 14.5 degrees.

Placing Delta in a tank with dripping water to get her slowly warmed up to 25 degrees to enable her body to start metabolising again, giving her fluids and pain relief, and taking X-rays and bloods were the team’s first priorities. Following this, they also began tube-feeding her an easy-to-digest liquidised food.

“Delta’s blood test results revealed elevated white blood cell levels, which indicates systemic inflammation, and her X-rays showed abnormal grey mottled patterning on her lungs,” says vet nurse Celine.

“We’ve seen pulmonary disease in these turtles before, and we think it likely that Delta has pneumonia. It is treatable with antibiotic and anti-fungal medications, but it does take quite a few months to successfully treat.”

“She’s a really lovely and calm turtle, and having got her stabilised, on Wednesday (22 September) it was great to be able to have our conservation colleagues at SEA LIFE Kelly Tarlton’s come and collect her for ongoing rehabilitation,” explains Celine.

Fortunately, Delta soon showed she was strong enough to be moved to a swimming tank.

“It was so heartening to see her able to swim down and rest on the bottom of our larger tank for good periods of time, as it showed us she had enough lung capacity.

As part of Team Turtle, Auckland Zoo works with Kelly Tarlton’s and the Department of Conservation (DOC) to rescue, treat, rehabilitate, and all going well, release successfully rehabilitated turtles like Delta, back to the wild.  

“It’s a fantastic partnership that sees us all contributing our respective skills. The Kelly Tarlton’s team have a bigger tank for Delta. They will continue tube-feeding her and administering her medications, and we hope she will soon pass faeces to reassure us her guts are working with no obstructions like plastic in them. This is also a sign that her body is fully functioning.

“In really great news, she did start eating some fish yesterday (Thursday), which is a very promising sign!”

“We’ll be checking in on Delta every couple of weeks, and in a month or two, will also do repeat blood tests and X-rays, that will hopefully show us her health is continuing to improve.” 

We look forward to keeping you posted on Delta’s progress!

Among the biggest threats to sea turtles, are climate change and other human impacts on their marine habitat, especially pollution - including plastics and the likes of fishing nets and hooks.

Auckland Zoo

Green sea turtles – regular travellers to NZ

Juvenile green sea turtles regularly travel from Australian waters down to the northern top of the North Island.

“These turtles naturally disperse when young, as being small, they need to move away from adult turtles, whom they would have to compete with for food and foraging areas. They will stay here in New Zealand waters for a few years, and once sufficiently grown, can then return to the breeding areas where they hatched, and in time, go on to breed themselves,” explains Celine.

Threats to sea turtles and how we can all help

Among the biggest threats to sea turtles, are climate change and other human impacts on their marine habitat, especially pollution - including plastics and the likes of fishing nets and hooks.

“Currently all the beaches in the world where these turtles hatch, are getting hotter and hotter, and these higher temperatures skew the male to female ratio, and result in mostly females hatching.

“We can all help by reducing our use of plastics, leaving only footprints at the beach, taking care when out on the water, helping with beach clean-ups, and actively living in ways that help reduce our carbon footprint, like buying local and using our cars less.”