HAPPY DAY: Volunteer Kymberley O’Neill gets ready to release a turtle.
HAPPY DAY: Volunteer Kymberley O’Neill gets ready to release a turtle.

Life-changing experience at turtle centre spurs on student

AN UNDYING love for the ocean led to a summer learning experience that has reignited one university student to follow her passion.

It sounded like the ideal summer job for a marine life enthusiast - three months living on an island while caring for sick and injured turtles.

But Kymberley O'Neill had no idea what to expect when she was accepted for a volunteer position at the Quoin Island Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.

"I had a basic knowledge of studying marine subjects, but I picked it up so much faster being there and learning on the spot," the 24-year-old said.

"I thought I'd get the tiny jobs, but I got to be part of the whole thing - it's an experience I won't be able to get anywhere else."

Starting the day by cleaning out the pool that houses the turtles, Kym would go on to scrub and feed them, help with medications and monitor their behaviour.

When you first admit a turtle that's severely sick and you wonder how on earth it became like that, it can get you down - but you're motivated to do all you can to save it.

When she first arrived, there were more than 10 sick turtles, which fluctuated on a regular basis due to some being released into the ocean, and others that just didn't make it.

"It's heartbreaking to look at a turtle when it first comes in," she said.

"When you first admit a turtle that's severely sick and you wonder how on earth it became like that, it can get you down - but you're motivated to do all you can to save it."

Every now and then you lose one, she said, but it certainly helps to have more successes.

"You have to weigh it up and realise you can't save them all...some are beyond help, but some of them surprise you."

And the feeling of releasing a turtle back into the wild, was incredible, she said, especially the ones she had looked after all the way through.

"That felt even better. I got more confidence to see the positive, really making the difference, and the motivation to keep going."

Volunteers Kymberley O'Neill and Althea Bowden help a turtle at the Quoin Island Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.
Volunteers Kymberley O'Neill and Althea Bowden help a turtle at the Quoin Island Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.

Kym, who has returned to the Sunshine Coast for her third year of university, said she was keen to get to know other marine life, "but I can't turn my back on turtles now".

"I spent so much time with them. You get to know each turtle individually, get to know their behaviours, get a bond between them and they know you too," she said.

"They are quite hardy but also vulnerable in our ocean at the moment and need to be considered a bit more. They've been around for over 150 million years and all of a sudden they're getting sick and dying and starving, and we need to take the initiative."

Kym said volunteering had really changed her life and her whole perspective on things.

"I cringe at every piece of plastic I see, I've since turned vegetarian and working on vegan.

"Although I don't encourage others to go all out as I have - I certainly do encourage giving it a chance, even just for one day.

"It's such a rewarding experience like nothing else; a feeling money can't buy you."



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