Frigid turtles get moved to warmer ground
Coast Guard plane flew some 200 rare sea turtles to Florida to escape the chill in the US Northeast.
A COAST Guard plane touched down recently at dusk in Orlando, Florida, hauling a cargo of the world’s rarest sea turtles, rescued by volunteers from the lethally chilly waters and beaches of Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts.
Weighing only 1kg to 4kg, the young Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are among the first of an astounding wave of the reptiles to succumb to hypothermia in the “bucket” of the Massachusetts bay.
“They’re so small,” said Alyssa Hancock, a SeaWorld Orlando aquarium worker, peering into one of 101 boxes holding 193 turtles.
Turtle rescues happen every year there in late fall in the US Northeast, but for reasons not yet known what’s happening this year is “epic,” said one of the nearly two dozen volunteers passing boxes of turtles like a bucket brigade.
“We’ve been rescuing sea turtles for 25 years, and we are just shocked,” said Tony LaCasse, spokesman for the New England Aquarium’s marine animal hospital.
Among possible explanation for the huge spike in turtle rescues – the record of 242 in 2012 has been eclipsed already this year by more than 400 rescues – is that the number of highly endangered Kemp’s ridleys has been increasing slightly in recent years. So when more of them turned up for their normal summer feast on crabs in Cape Cod Bay, more were trapped there when water temperatures began to drop in September.
The bay is shaped like a bucket, and turtles have to swim 40km to the north to get over the lip of the bucket and escape to warmer waters to the south. “They slowly get hypothermic over six to eight weeks,” LaCasse said.
As soon as the plane’s engines shut down, The nearly two dozen veterinarians, biologists, drivers and government officials – coordinated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission – went to work, counting out turtle numbers as boxes were loaded into van. Within 10 minutes, the first van left for a drive to an aquarium in the Keys. In all, seven aquariums from South to North Florida took some of the reptiles for rehabilitation. SeaWorld took 72 of them.
Turtles also have gone to other states recently. The Florida turtles are likely to be released into the Gulf of Mexico, which is probably the survivors’ birth waters. More than 90% of nesting occurs along beaches of the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico. – The Orlando Sentinel/Tribune News Service