A group of 20 critically endangered juvenile Kemp’s ridley sea turtles was flown by private plane Friday from Marshfield, Massachusetts, to the subtropical Florida Keys to convalesce at the Marathon Turtle Hospital after being rescued from Cape Cod Bay’s frigid coastal waters.
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 transport for rescued sea turtles and other endangered species.
The reptiles were recently rescued and initially treated at the New England Aquarium in Boston.
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 Bette Zirkelbach, manager of the Turtle Hospital.
“These sea turtles are at the Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys to warm up; their temperatures were extremely low — 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 really important to help these little ones survive.”
Upon the turtles’ arrival at the hospital, staff carefully identified each with a dedicated number, took their photographs, and documented their weight, blood samples, 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 and a healthy diet, and the group of turtles is to be rehabilitated in water tanks set at 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
According to Zirkelbach, once the sea turtles are healthy enough to be released back to the wild, they will return to warmer waters off central east Florida where this species is found, especially at this young life stage.
The Turtle Hospital opened in September of 1986 as the world’s first state licensed veterinary sea turtle hospital. The facility has since treated and rehabilitated 2,000 injured sea turtles and assisted scores of hatchlings gone astray after exiting their nests.