A Cairns father and son’s decision to abandon a fishing competition — they were shoo-ins to win — to save a gulping and gasping turtle has rewarded them twice over.
The flatback was struggling in waters off Double Island, north of Cairns.
She had turned yellow and was having trouble diving.
Father and son Geoff and Ross Willis were mid-way through the Troppo Fishing competition and had to chose between continuing or rescuing the turtle.
They had caught a fish they thought was large enough to net them the title, but the pair decided to help the flatback in strife.
“She was floating up and down and we didn’t know what happened,” Ross, 11, said.
“We took her on the boat, she was really yellow and she looked in distress.”
After contacting the Great Barrier Reef Park Authority, the pair took the turtle, now named Shelly, to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, which is based on Fitzroy Island, just south of Double Island.
James Cook University researcher Jennie Gilbert, who founded the rehabilitation centre 17 years ago, believed Shelly may have had a scare.
“She’s hit the surface to breathe and she’s gulped in a lot of air,” he said.
“It had caused her to float.”
On her new tropical island home and after being fed a healthy diet of squid, Shelly has been nursed back to health five months after her rescue.
Her carers decided to release her into the wild this weekend, off Fitzroy Island, and asked Geoff and Ross to join them.
Ross Willis said it was a thrill to see her released.
A calm Shelly took to the waters with ease.
“It makes me happy, it’s been an emotional day,” he said.
Geoff and Ross Willis said goodbye to Shelly at the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre. (ABC News: Kirsty Nancarrow)
“When I released her it made me feel like a dad and it made me feel like I had such a big responsibility.”
Mr Willis said he felt he had done a good thing for the environment.
“We didn’t do any good in the fishing competition, but some things are a bit more important than catching a fish,” he said.
Flatback turtles are only found in Australian waters and listed as vulnerable, with the exact population unknown.
Ross helped Jennie Gilbert from the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre prepare Shelly for release. (ABC News: Kirsty Nancarrow)