Twenty critically endangered juvenile Kemp’s ridley sea turtles were flown from New England to the subtropical Florida Keys to convalesce at the Marathon Turtle Hospital after being rescued from Cape Cod Bay’s frigid coastal waters.
Each of the turtles suffers from “cold stunning,” a hypothermic reaction that occurs when sea turtles are exposed to cold water for a prolonged time, according to hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach. They arrived Friday by private plane.
“These sea turtles are at the Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys to warm up just like the tourists that come to the Keys to warm up,” said Zirkelbach. “The Kemps ridley is the most critically endangered sea turtle in the world, so it’s important to help these little ones survive.”
The flight transport to Florida Keys Marathon International Airport was conducted in collaboration with Turtles Fly Too, a nonprofit group that engages general aviation pilots who donate their aircraft, fuel and time to provide emergency transportation for rescued sea turtles.
Upon the turtles’ arrival at the hospital, staff assigned a dedicated number to each reptile, photographed them and documented their weight and swimming ability in a small pool to gauge their in-water respiration and swim strength.
Treatment over the next few months at the Turtle Hospital is expected to include broad-spectrum antibiotics, fluids, vitamins, a diet of mixed seafood and rehabilitation in water tanks at about 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 degrees Celsius).
According to Zirkelbach, once the sea turtles are healthy enough, they will likely be released off the central Florida east coast near Cape Canaveral.