Volunteer Experience at the JCU Turtle Health Research Centre

Lydia, from USA and Sweden is studying a Bachelor Degree in Science, majoring in Zoology and Marine Biology with James Cook University (JCU) in Townsville, North Queensland.

Lydia shares a memorable experience had volunteering at the JCU Townsville Turtle Hospital.

The most impactful part of my time here is difficult to sum up. I moved back and forth between two countries growing up so I wasn’t new to adjustment. When I graduated high school for the first time, I could choose for myself where I’d start my life, which was scary. The original plan was not to go to Australia but when I stumbled upon James Cook University (JCU) in my quest for finding universities that excel in the marine biology department, I made my decision. Leaving my family was the hardest decision I’ve made, but I’ve been lucky enough to have their support every step of the way and I’ll forever be grateful for that because I got to build a life surrounded by my passions, and not everyone is that lucky.

When I arrived in Townsville my immediate impression was, “this is paradise”. It felt like arriving at a tropical vacation destination with the Great Barrier Reef right next door, vibrant parrots flying overhead, and an abundance of wildlife all around that I’d only seen watching animal planet.

From day one I’ve loved animals so you can only imagine how excited I was. My mission from the start was to get as much hands-on experiences as possible, not only with animals, but also research. I heard JCU had the world’s first turtle health research facility called the caraplace. The caraplace is a facility that provides an environment where sea turtle health can be studied up close unlike in the wild. I was fascinated looking into the research being conducted at the caraplace. I contacted the turtle health research centre on campus about volunteering for them and helping out in any way possible.

They had just got some baby loggerhead turtles so it was a very exciting time, I was lucky enough to get an interview and I got in! I have been volunteering with them since my first year and am currently a team leader, meaning I get to be more involved in not only the day to day husbandry, but also have the opportunity to help out with some of the research that has taken place as well. The facility is housing 13 loggerhead sea turtles which are all taken care of by over 40 volunteers and regular staff as well. I did a lot of weighing and measuring my first year to keep track of their growth which was my favourite duty since it allowed me to spend the most time with each turtle and it also gave me the chance to see them grow and develop over time. I also enjoyed brushing their shells, mimicking their “grooming’ in the ocean. This was my first time even seeing a loggerhead turtle in person, and I was incredibly intimidated by the people around me who all seemed to have some amazing credentials, ranging from handling sharks, rays, or prior sea turtle experience to having already published papers. However, I’ve never been made to feel less than them because of this, and it’s been a joy to be a part of this project and it has made me very proud to be a part of something bigger than myself. Finally, another great benefit with being involved in this endeavour is to learn about the opportunities and paths that I can pursue in this field in order to stay engaged, which provides a chance to participate in future projects.

January 2024