Diamantina to the turtle rescue

Published on LCDR Iain Hutchins (author), LEUT Keith Whitehead (photographer)

Abel Seaman Clearance Diver Daniel Bird (left) and Leading Aircraftman Aiden Galea free a turtle from a discarded fishing net in northern Australian waters. (photo: LEUT Keith Whitehead)
Abel Seaman Clearance Diver Daniel Bird (left) and Leading Aircraftman Aiden Galea free a turtle from a discarded fishing net in northern Australian waters.

HMAS Diamantina has come to the aid of three turtles trapped in discarded fishing nets during a patrol near the Tiwi Islands in Northern Australia.

Since 15 September, the Minehunter has been deployed in support of Operation RESOLUTE, the Australian Defence Force's contribution to the whole-of-government effort to protect Australia's borders and offshore maritime interests.

On 4 November, Diamantina was tasked to search for a large discarded fishing net, spotted drifting by maritime patrol aircraft. 

The net posed a navigational hazard to shipping and a threat to marine life. 

During her transit to the net, Diamantina’s lookouts spotted a smaller net adrift in the water and launched a dive boat to investigate.

The team reported that marine animals were trapped within the net, including a large sea turtle, and proceeded to free the tangled sea-life. 

Following some careful cutting, the boat crew were able to free the turtle who appeared tired, but none worse for wear and with a quick splash of its flippers it swam off into the clear blue sea. 

The boat crew freed the remaining fish and then made an assessment of the net which they deemed recoverable. 

The net was towed to Diamantina's stern and slowly hauled in by hand to be stowed in a large rubbish bin.

Diamantina resumed her transit and within the hour had spotted another net. 

The dive boat was again launched and the team discovered a number of fish and two more trapped turtles, one of which was a baby Hornbill.

After 20 minutes of surgical cutting, both turtles and the remaining fish were freed in good condition and the net was recovered.

Diamantina Sonar Operator, Able Seaman Rhys Khelloul, said life at sea involves constantly adapting to new and unexpected situations.

"It’s very rewarding to help preserve the wonderful marine life that puts Australia on the map," Able Seaman Khelloul said.

"The increase in discarded fishing nets within our maritime environment is alarming and an issue I wish to tackle in years to come,” he said.

Diamantina's Executive Officer, Lieutenant Georgie Rae, said it was lucky Diamantina found the turtles when they did.

"You could tell they were fatigued and beginning to struggle under the weight of the net - a little longer and they would have lost the energy to surface and breathe," Lieutenant Rae said.

"Once freed, it was a relief to see they still had enough energy to swim away and were no longer in distress," she said.

The rescue of these marine creatures comes at the end of Diamantina’s three month deployment which has included boarding operations, a port visit to Dili in Timor-Leste and exercises with the French Navy. 

Diamantina will soon return to her home base in Sydney to undergo some maintenance and enjoy a well earned Christmas break.

Abel Seaman Clearance Diver Daniel Bird (left) and Leading Aircraftman Aiden Galea watch as a turtle swims free from a discarded fishing net in northern Australian waters.

Abel Seaman Clearance Diver Daniel Bird (left) and Leading Aircraftman Aiden Galea watch as a turtle swims free from a discarded fishing net in northern Australian waters.