TURTLE Rescue Health & Safety Considerations

RESCUE Health and Safety

Practical health and safety measurements must be taken into consideration prior to attending sea turtle rescues. It is important to be aware that there may be risks associated with:

  • The rescue location (ocean, beach, rockpools, waves)
  • The weather conditions (strong wind, sun exposure, adverse temperatures)
  • The sea turtle being rescued (personal injury, zoonoses, heavy lifting)

It is important to note, when handling sea turtles there is potential for their strong fore flippers and beak to cause injury through impact. Sea turtles are capable of biting and they have a sharp beak, so it is recommended to have their head pointing away from your body. By following the correct handling procedures outlined in this training, it will mitigate the risk and reduce likelihood of injury.

Be Aware of the Dangers Associated with Working Around Water:

  • Waves (e.g. rough surf conditions, rogue waves, strong undertows and surge etc.)
  • Currents (e.g. river, beach)
  • Slippery surfaces (e.g. algae by the side of body of water, pool tiles, rock pools etc.)
  • Tidal movements
  • Exposure to marine animals (e.g. jellyfish, bluebottles, sharks, crocodiles, etc.
  • Oceanic rips
  • Changing conditions
  • Debris in the water

Water Competencies 

  • Please consider whether you are comfortable working in and around water (including the ocean, beaches and rock pools) before accepting and/or attending any rescues. It is important to be aware of your abilities and a reasonable level of fitness for these rescues is required.
  • Regardless of the depth of the water, DO NOT enter the water and DO NOT attempt to rescue a sea turtle in water if you are not competent in the water.
  • If you are not comfortable or competent in the water, please do not conduct the rescue. DO NOT enter water where you are unable to stand. You should not attempt to conduct rescues in where you are required to swim at any point throughout the rescue.
  • Rescuers should also be wearing a life jacket for any rescues where you must enter the water, regardless of the depth. Approach the water’s edge with caution and ensure the conditions are not dangerous before proceeding. If a sea turtle is further out at sea, DO NOT attempt to swim out to sea to rescue a turtle as this is very dangerous.


In summary, please DO NOT attempt the following: 

  • Do not attempt to enter any water body if you are not competent in water
  • Do not attempt to rescue a sea turtle by swimming out into open water 
  • Do not attempt to rescue a sea turtle in water if the sea conditions are rough and dangerous



Warning Signs

When arriving at a beach, it is important to complete an observational assessment of the area as this will allow you to identify any risks. When completing an observational assessment, keep an eye out for the following:

  • Prohibition Symbols: These signs will alert you to what is prohibited in the area. If you see a sign saying ‘Do not swim’, please follow those instructions and reassess the rescue by communicating with the relevant body e.g. government departments and rescue hotlines
  • Hazard Symbols: These signs will alert you about the dangers and hazards associated with the area. Please do not attempt to rescue a sea turtle in water if you see hazard signs regarding deep water, strong currents, jellyfish or shark/ crocodile sightings.


Implementing a Buddy System

Rescues that involve entering the water or being close to a water body (while following the safety precautions outlined above) should implement a buddy system where possible. Rescuers should notify a ‘buddy’ prior to entering the water and then confirm their safety upon exiting the water by again notifying their ‘buddy’. This allows the buddy to check up on the rescuer if they do not confirm their safety.

Note: A ‘buddy’ may be a member from your affiliated wildlife rescue group or a personal connection such as a friend or family member.

Rescue Support

When accepting a sea turtle rescue, based on the information provided about the rescue, it is recommended to consider whether extra support will be required. This could be in regards to the weight of the sea turtle (possibly requiring multiple rescuers during lifting) or whether the safest approach would be to have a second person attend the rescue to either observe or assist. 

Members of the public should NOT take part in the rescue at any stage. Instead, it is important to communicate with the public in a positive manner and encourage them to keep a safe distance. You can always utilise members of public by asking them to inform other passers-by to keep a safe distance from the sea turtle and rescuers.


Water Safety Summary

To ensure your own safety, please practice the following safety measure when working around the water:

  • Wear a life jacket when undertaking any water rescues or assisting wildlife in the water
  • Approach every water’s edge with caution and ensure conditions are not dangerous before proceeding (including observing safety signs)
  • Regardless of shallow water depth, do not enter the water in order to attempt to assist the sea turtle if you are not competent in the water
  • If competent in the water, only assist with rescues where you can stand in the water (e.g. shallow water depth)
  • Do not engage in swimming (i.e., when the rescuer cannot stand due to the water depth) in order to assist wildlife including sea turtl
  • If a rescuer enters the water (while following the above safety precautions), they should implement a buddy system (as discussed above) either by checking-in with a buddy or organising a buddy to observe the rescue


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