Turtle Rehabilitation and Marine Conservation in Queensland

Play an important role in the rehabilitation of sick and injured marine turtles on Fitzroy Island (Cairns) in Tropical North Queensland on this 2-week, hands-on volunteer program.

Program Overview

If you are passionate about protecting and promoting the conservation of marine life, and in particular turtles, then this is the program for you! The Great Barrier Reef is home to six of the world’s seven species of marine turtles. A number of these are seriously threatened by a diverse range of natural and, more significantly, human induced factors. CISaustralia has partnered with a local, non-profit volunteer organisation that is dedicated to the rehabilitation of sick and injured turtles located in Cairns, Far North Queensland, which is where many of the sick and injured turtles that are cared for are found. 

Focused on maximising the overall benefit of sea turtles and marine conservation, our on-site partner supports the work of all organisations, individuals and agencies in their efforts to conserve sea turtles and the habitats they live in. They work closely with a number of these groups, which includes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Park Rangers who are responsible for bringing in the turtles, to ensure sick and injured turtles can safely return to the wild. Members of the public who find them can also call the stranding hotline and a qualified responder picks the turtles up to take them to the rehabilitation centre.

The organisation’s aims and objectives include:

  • Do all that we can to rehabilitate sick and injured turtles in our care
  • Endeavour to provide assistance, where required or requested, in efforts to rescue turtles in distress
  • Share our knowledge in the interests of turtle rescue, rehabilitation and research
  • Endeavour to raise awareness of issues faced by marine turtles through positive publicity and teaching
  • Help to promote humane and sustainable practices through cooperation and education
  • Seek to positively influence Government Policy relating to turtle conservation and the marine environment

Project Details:

  • Program Activities: Caring for and feeding rescued turtles, looking after critically sick or injured turtles, cleaning beaches of rubbish, micro-plastic and debris counts, research assistance 
  • Project Availability: Fixed program dates each year – see the program fees and dates tab (below) or contact CISaustralia for upcoming availability. Customised group dates may be available on request – please consult with CISaustralia
  • Project Duration: 2 weeks
  • Working Days: Monday-Friday
  • Location: Cairns, Queensland and Fitzroy Island
  • Support: 24-hour support from Project Leaders
  • A valid Police Check or Working With Children Check is required
  • Minimum Age: 18+
  • Language: English


  • Play an important role in the rehabilitation of sick and injured marine turtles.
  • Participate in marine and reef conservation activities.
  • Gain practical insight into what is being done to protect sea turtles and the habitats they live in.
  • A day going to the Tablelands and a visit to the bat rehabilitation centre.
  • Full-day visit to the Cairns Aquarium.
  • Great Barrier Reef trip including snorkelling and lunch.
  • Immerse in a meaningful experiential service learning experience.
  • Explore the beauty in and around Cairns and Tropical North Queensland with easy access to the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree National Rainforest.
  • Meet people from all over Australia and possibly the world while expanding your horizons.
  • This volunteer experience is a natural stepping stone to an overseas program that offers a range of additional diverse cultural, environmental, sociological, marine and wildlife scenarios. Students who enjoy this program will naturally progress to the Sea Turtle Conservation in Costa Rica program, or another one of our conservation focused Volunteer Abroad Programs. Contact CISaustralia for more information.

Sample Itinerary

Please note that this itinerary is a sample guide only and subject to change. You may not spend each designated day at Fitzroy Island as indicated in the schedule below. We ask that you remain open-minded and flexible. Onsite staff will provide updates each day based on the planned activities for the following day(s). Lots of activities are weather dependent and may change day-by-day or hour-by-hour.

Note: This is not a scuba diving program. Snorkelling is included as per the itinerary.


  • Arrival and check into accommodation


  • Orientation and project induction on Fitzroy Island
  • Commence turtle rehabilitation work including participation in lectures/research/field work


  • Visit to Reef Teach to learn about the Great Barrier Reef and fish identification (pending weather and turtle needs)


  • Turtle rehabilitation work on Fitzroy Island


  • Free weekend


  • Turtle rehabilitation work on Fitzroy Island
  • One full-day guided tour of the Cairns Aquarium


  • Full-day Great Barrier Reef tour to learn about its marine ecosystem, including snorkelling and a buffet lunch


  • Check out of accommodation and program departure

Some additional activities not listed in the schedule above may also be included in your program:

  • Guided visit to the centre at Mission Beach where you will have the opportunity to work with turtles and other Far North Queensland wildlife
  • Beach clean up and/or marine debris sorting
  • Crocodile and reptile handling demonstration with a local expert
  • Visit to James Cook University to have a tour of the turtles and educational aquarium
  • Note: Students will be required to pay for any meals and additional transport costs associated with the activities listed above

As with any experiential service learning experience it is important to remember that things don’t always go to plan. During your placement, we ask that you remain patient, flexible and use initiative while volunteering.

COVID Safe Travel

The health and safety of our students is our highest priority. We take our duty of care for our students, their families and our Australian University partners seriously. For all of our program locations, we have developed a site-specific COVID-19 risk matrix and risk management and emergency response plans so that health and safety response protocols are monitored, managed and communicated.

In preparation for your Australian volunteer program, it’s important that you carefully read and understand information related to COVID-19 Travel Safety.

The Volunteer's Role

This program has been developed and designed to give students an immersive experiential service learning experience while working alongside local volunteers. Duties may vary depending on how many turtles are being cared for at the time of visit, which could be as few as 3 or up to 80. Alternate marine and reef conservation activities and learning will complement the activities, both on Fitzroy Island and in Cairns. During the program you may have the opportunity to work on the following activities:

  • Caring for rescued turtles from the Great Barrier Reef and Cape York Peninsula 
  • Feeding the turtles, cleaning tanks and administering medication
  • Afternoon research and other activities, such as looking after critically sick or injured turtles, cleaning beaches of rubbish, micro-plastic and debris counts, research assistance 
  • Guided day trip to Cairns Aquarium – home to more than 16,000 specimens and 10 ecosystems. The aquarium has a new marine turtle rehabilitation facility that provides the final stage of the rehabilitation processes prior to the release of the turtles back into the ocean
  • Full-day reef trip to study turtles in their wild habitat


Your program fee includes a guided visit of the Cairns Aquarium, the only aquarium in the world dedicated exclusively to the habitats and species of Tropical North Queensland. The Cairns Aquarium has been developed to provide a world-class venue for seeing and interacting with the incredible plants, animals and habitats found only in Australia’s Wet Tropics.

A full-day Great Barrier Reef trip is also included to study an array of coral and marine life, including turtles in the wild! You will get to experience the adventure of sailing on the Great Barrier Reef on a 25-metre high performance catamaran where you can snorkel with turtles, colourful fish and see an amazing variety of corals. Lunch and snorkelling are included.

There are many other activities, attractions and things to do in and around Cairns that you can choose to do on your own (at own expense) outside of project hours, such as the Daintree Rainforest. Take a look at the Cairns Tourism website for ideas and suggestions.


This program is based in Cairns on the east coast of Far North Queensland, a region which borders two World Heritage listed environments – Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef. Cairns is a modern and vibrant city and an ideal base to explore the wonderful attractions that Tropical North Queensland has to offer. It is a popular tourist destination because of its tropical climate and access to Daintree Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. It is also easily accessible to Port Douglas, a tropical town on the Coral Sea where the rainforest meets the reef!

The turtle rehabilitation volunteer work will take place on Fitzroy Island, 29 kilometres off the southeast coast of Cairns (45-minute ferry ride). The island is a National Park and an unspoilt tropical paradise of rainforest and beaches. It is surrounded by a reef system that forms part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Please note that the ferry from Fitzroy Island does not operate on a set time each day. Return travel times to the mainland will vary depending on the weather and number of volunteers on the island each day.


Accommodation is included for the duration of this program (13 nights) at a backpackers hostel. Students will share a mixed gender dorm room and shared bathroom facilities. Note that accommodation could be shared with others not on the program. We always try for standalone rooms for program participants, however this cannot be guaranteed. Rooms are safe, clean and comfortable with air-conditioning, modern facilities and a clean self-catering kitchen. It features an outdoor swimming pool, two spas and a free Wi-Fi hotspot. Other facilities include a dining area, guest laundry, TV/reading room and a billiards table. 

Meals are not included. Students are responsible for their own meals and any associated cost. Please ensure you budget accordingly. A communal kitchen is available for use at the accommodation. 

The hostel is located near Cairns Central Shopping Centre and is a short walk from the Cairns Esplanade where you can find lots of shops and cafés.

Program Fee & Dates

2 WEEKS (Set dates only)
This program is available on fixed program dates only. Programs start on a Sunday and end on a Saturday. Application deadline is 90 days prior to commencement. There is a maximum of 7 participants for this program at any one time. Please enquire for upcoming availability.
Application FeeA$ 95
Program Fee A$ 2,999


Program fees include the following:
  • Volunteer placement and supervision
  • CISaustralia support services before, during and after the program
  • Academic advising
  • Financial advice
  • Assistance with travel arrangements
  • Pre-departure guide and session
  • On-site orientation and project induction
  • Accommodation – shared, mixed gender dorm room in a backpackers hostel
  • Program activities
  • Return ferry costs
  • One full-day aquarium guided tour (or similar)
  • One full-day reef trip including lunch and snorkelling (or similar)
  • Program risk matrix and COVID-19 risk assessment
  • Risk Management and Emergency Response Plan
  • On-site support – Project Leaders
  • CISaustralia Certificate of Participation (available on request)

What is not included:

  • Program application fee
  • Flights (CISaustralia will however provide travel guidance and support via our formal travel partner)
  • Airport transfers
  • Medical insurance
  • Travel insurance
  • Police or Working With Children Check
  • Meals
  • Extra travel/excursions (other than those mentioned above)

Dates are for reference only and are subject to change. Please do not book flights until you have received the dates in your acceptance paperwork and you are confirmed on the program.

CISaustralia reserves the right to alter fees at any time due to fee changes made by our partners.

Adventure Awaits

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