Sick and injured turtles in north Queensland now have a better chance of survival thanks to the new, Indigenous-run Gudjuda Turtle Rehabilitation Centre in Home Hill, Queensland. It’s managed by the Gudjuda Reference Group - men and women who are the Traditional Owners of the land between the Whitsunday Islands and Townsville.
On 9 August, the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we honour Indigenous peoples as inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment.
WWF-Australia pays tribute to the work and dedication of all its Indigenous partner organisations including the Gudjuda community, which is responsible for rescuing more than 2,000 turtles over the past 15 years.
Elder Eddie Smallwood is Chairman of the Gudjuda Reference Group. He told us about the significance of the turtle rehabilitation centre and the difference it’s making in the local community.
What is the local cultural significance of turtles?
In local language, they’re called gungu. They play a vital role in weddings, funerals and other culturally important events. They’re very important to Gudjuda, which is why we need effective sustainability and management plans.
What are the biggest threats facing marine turtles on the Great Barrier Reef?
Pollution from the ports is the biggest problem. But there’s also boat strike, entanglement in discarded fishing gear, and habitat degradation. With the help of partners like James Cook University and WWF, science and culture have come together to benefit both the turtles and the community.
What difference will the new turtle rehabilitation centre make to the work you do?
Before, the nearest facility for turtles was an hour and a half drive away in Townsville. By the time you’ve heard about an injured turtle and picked it up it could be 4 to 5 hours before it’s in a facility and some died before getting the help they needed.
Now we have a facility where we can provide the first stage of care and help more turtles survive.
But it isn’t just benefiting the turtles. It’s also an education centre for the community. People can come and learn about the scientific research into turtle disease. Science and culture come together when we talk about managing country and marine life.
We also talk to schools about marine pollution as part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority's (GBRMPA) Reef Guardian program.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part is training young people how to dive off the boat to catch turtle. It isn’t easy but you just need to know what you’re doing. They’re so proud when they catch their first one. Their ancestors have been doing the same thing for generations and it gives them a sense of history and pride in their culture. It’s a great thing to see.