A protected green sea turtle was released Friday in the Florida Keys, swimming into the Atlantic Ocean after recovering from injuries caused by a diver’s spear.
Cheered by spectators, staff and volunteers from the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital in Marathon released the 150-pound female at Key West’s Higgs Beach.
Dubbed “Splinter,” the subadult turtle was found Sept. 7 off Key Largo, entangled in a commercial fishing trapline with a spear protruding from its neck.
“Splinter” was transported to the Turtle Hospital, where a veterinarian determined the three-foot-long spear actually spanned more than half the turtle’s body and performed emergency surgery to remove it.
“Splinter’s release is an incredible opportunity to educate the general public that sea turtles are off-limits in the United States,” said Turtle Hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach. “They’re protected by both federal and state laws, and you can’t touch a sea turtle unless you’re on a permit to help them.”
According to Zirkelbach, post-surgical treatment at the hospital included wound care with natural honey, broad-spectrum antibiotics, vitamins and fluids, and a diet of natural sea grass, green vegetables and seafood.
Turtle Hospital director Richie Moretti and several Florida Keys businesses have joined to pledge a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever speared “Splinter.”
“We look at each animal as, that animal may be the one that’s going to have babies that your babies will see,” said Moretti. “So we love each one of them, and we will do whatever it takes to save each individual one.”
Since it opened over 30 years ago as the world’s first state-licensed veterinary sea turtle hospital, the Florida Keys facility has treated and rehabilitated more than 2,000 injured sea turtles.