So our Turtle Tuesday blog is a bit behind because we had so much going on last week that we had to wait to share all of the info with you!
Last week we were out conducting surveys of our typical ~75 miles of beach, and at the end of our survey on Bolivar Peninsula we came across a very sick, stranded Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. The turtle had most likely washed up during high tide and was so weak that the waves flipped him upside down. When we reached him he was barely alive. We were able to take him back to NOAA’s rehab facility in Galveston and give him fluids and some vitamins. He survived comfortably in the wonderful care of NOAA staff for several days, but unfortunately he was too sick to pull through. Although the turtle passed away of unknown causes (a necropsy will be performed to find out what internal issues there were) we were happy to have given the turtle a last chance at life, and hopefully a comfortable good-bye.
Often times stories like this can make conservationists and anyone involved with wildlife discouraged and frustrated. Thankfully, there are stories like the one below that restore our hope.
Doug is a sub-adult Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. Doug was rescued (and aptly named) by a crew of US Coast Guard staff in August of 2012 who found the turtle floating through a channel near Sabine Pass. The turtle was severely injured and sick. Thanks to these men, the sea turtle was rescued from the channel and taken back to their field station. NOAA was alerted of the turtle and immediately took it to the sea turtle facility in Galveston to be rehabilitated. If the US Coast Guard had not stepped in to save Doug, he would most certainly not have pulled through. The turtle was later found to have severe wounds to his carapace (shell) and a massive lung infection.
Over the course of several months, Doug, and several other sea turtles were rehabilitated by NOAA and given the A-OK by our head vet, Dr. Joe to be released offshore. Why do these turtles need to be released out in the middle of the Gulf you may ask? Well, Kemp’s ridley sea turtles typically forage for food offshore. So, by releasing them away from people and boats and near their food source, we hope to increase their chance of survival.
So, we assembled our group of 4 healthy Kemp’s ridley sea turtles that were ready to be returned to the water, NOAA and Houston Zoo staff and the US Coast Guard. Thankfully, the men who originally saved Doug were able to accompany us on our adventure offshore to release the very same turtle they were instrumental in saving.
Through very choppy waters, a bit of seasickness and a lot of fun, we arrived after an hour trip through the Gulf to a perfect sea turtle haven. Each turtle was photographed, and we recorded the water depth and GPS points for the release. Other than Doug, we had 3 smaller Kemp’s ridley sea turtles that needed to be released. All 3 turtles came to the rehab facility after having an interaction with recreational fishermen (i.e. they were caught on hook and line). Unfortunately, one of the turtles was a repeat offender! Using information collected from the turtle’s flipper tag, we determined that this turtle had been caught not once but TWICE off of the same jetty while eating bait from the fishermen. We hope that he will stay offshore and continue to forage for sponges and crabs far away from human disturbances.
All 4 turtles were released successfully and swam away like they had never even been in captivity! It was wonderful to see a successful conservation story come full circle, and the involvement of the US Coast Guard of Sabine Pass was instrumental not only in saving 1 sea turtle’s life, but providing us the means and expertise to release 4 endangered species back to their rightful home.
If you would like to learn more about & help Texas sea turtles please visit: http://www.houstonzoo.org/seaturtles/
More photos of this release are available on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/houstonzooconservation
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