TURTLE Rescue Assessment

Conducting a Rescue


Objective: To conduct a marine reptile rescue to minimise further stress and injury to the animal.

  • Prior to a rescue attempt, the rescuer must assess the risks to the marine reptile from environmental hazards and from capture.
  • Rescuers should take steps to protect marine reptiles from additional stressors during rescue, such as onlookers, loud noises, other animals and extremes of temperature.
  • Prior to a rescue attempt, the rescuer must assess the risks to themselves and members of the public.

Below is a decision tree to assess marine reptiles to determine the type of intervention required. The primary objective of rehabilitation is the successful reintegration of the marine reptile back into the wild population and all decisions are in pursuit of this goal. This will mean that some marine reptiles may benefit from rehabilitation whereas others will need to be euthanased.

Deceased Sea Turtle


If you attend a rescue and find a deceased sea turtle, please record the following important details:

  • Exact location of the sea turtle
  • Species of sea turtle
  • Confirm that it is deceased
  • Presence or absence of a tag or satellite tracker

This information will be entered into the relevant state agency’s database and allow staff to arrange for a necropsy to identify the cause of death and disposal (in some cases).

Data collection for each sea turtle is vital to understand whether there is a local issue regarding pollution, water quality, boating activities etc. By collecting this data, management strategies can be altered or implemented to reduce our impact on sea turtles locally.

Sea Turtle (Alive)

If you attend a rescue and find a sea turtle that is alive and requires rescuing, record the following details:

  • Exact location of the sea turtle
  • Species of sea turtle
  • Estimated age (hatchling, juvenile, adult)
  • Reason for rescuing (beached, weak, entangled, marine debris ingestion, boat strike, disease)
  • If you suspect the turtle is suffering from a disease please provide a detailed description of manifestations (e.g. epibiotic growth, tumours, open wounds)
  • Fate and rehabilitation facility the sea turtle was transported to
  • Presence or absence of a tag or satellite tracker


Sea turtles with flipper tags or satellite trackers on their shell are involved in a scientific study and it important to note this when reporting sea turtle rescue information. If any identification numbers are visible, please include this in your report or communication to relevant government department.

Nesting Sea Turtle

Nesting is seasonal and it is important to note that female sea turtles coming to shore DO NOT require rescuing, unless they present with severe injuries.

If you observe the following behaviours, please identify the individual as a ‘nesting’ female:

  • Digging a nest (using the two hind flippers predominately)
  • Laying eggs
  • Covering up a nest that has been dug out


Note: Another helpful tip to identify nesting sea turtles is their long track moving up and down the shore and typically there will be more than one female nesting on a beach.

If you encounter a healthy, nesting sea turtle you must:

  • Remain at a safe distance and keep members of public away from the turtle
  • Ensure you remain behind the turtle and out of sight
  • Turn of all lights, torches and camera flashes (only red light is safe to use)


In NSW, notifying NPWS about a nesting sea turtle is important to ensure the safety of the individual turtle and a NPWS representative will be able to cordon off an area from members of public. It is very valuable to know the exact location of nesting sites of sea turtles to better protect the area from threats, including human activity.

The images below are prime examples of ‘nesting’ sea turtles and the following considerations should be taken into account when deciding whether a reported sea turtle needs rescuing.

Female turtle laying eggs at the beach

  • Is the sea turtle digging?
  • Can you see tracks to and from the sea?
  • When approaching the turtle from behind, can you see any eggs?


Sea turtles that fit the criteria above and are not injured can be identified as a nesting female sea turtle and these observations can be reported to the relevant state hotline.

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