MARATHON, Florida Keys — A large loggerhead sea turtle rehabilitated at the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital was flown by private plane Sunday to permanently reside at a conservation facility on South Padre Island, Texas.
The effort to transport the 230-pound female turtle on the nearly five-hour flight from the Middle Keys to Texas was a 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 endangered species.
“Matthew,” named for one of her rescuers — before being sexed — in May 2020, suffered injuries to her shell from a boat strike that left her unable to dive and forage for food — a condition termed “bubble butt syndrome” by the hospital’s caring rehabilitation staff.
“She’s being transported to Sea Turtle Inc. in South Padre Island because she’s unable to dive. That makes her non-releasable,” said Bette Zirkelbach (pronounced Betty ZIR kull back), the Turtle Hospital’s general manager, who accompanied the reptile during the flight.
“She will act as an ambassador for her species there at the Texas facility where they see lots of visitors,” Zirkelbach added.
The reptile joins other rehabilitated, non-releasable turtle patients at Sea Turtle Inc., located on the Gulf of Mexico. The organization’s conservation outreach programs are designed to raise public awareness about sea turtles and the threats to their survival.
Although the goal for the Keys’ Turtle Hospital is for every rescued sea turtle to successfully rehabilitate and return to its ocean home, it is not likely Matthew could survive in the wild due to the positive buoyancy disorder.
Matthew’s carapace has been fitted with weights, fashioned to adhere to the shell and help the turtle submerge and rest comfortably during her residency at the Texas center.
The Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys has been rescuing, rehabilitating and returning turtles to the wild for over 30 years.