Twenty-two stranded juvenile green sea turtles — several encrusted with barnacles, indicating severe malnourishment — have arrived at the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital from two Central Florida facilities for rehabilitation.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers drove the young turtles, wrapped in towels and placed in plastic tubs, down to Marathon from the Brevard Zoo and Volusia County Marine Science Center.
“They washed ashore over the past week, lethargic, covered in barnacles, and the facilities throughout Florida are at capacity,” said Bette Zirkelbach, manager of the Turtle Hospital. “The Turtle Hospital is receiving these turtles to help out because we do have the capacity for these turtles and we have the staffing and, fortunately, the resources to rehabilitate them.”
At the Turtle Hospital, veterinarians weighed and monitored the juvenile reptiles. Scientists don’t know why the turtles were beached or why they became critically malnourished.
Zirkelbach said that juvenile green sea turtles stranding on Central Florida Atlantic Ocean beaches has been a normal springtime occurrence the last few years.
“There’s no one smoking gun that veterinarians have found (where) that’s bringing these turtles in,” Zirkelbach said. “It may be weather patterns, it may be the currents or the winds that are washing them ashore, maybe the weaker ones.”
The Turtle Hospital, the world’s first state-licensed veterinary sea turtle hospital, has treated and rehabilitated more than 2,000 injured sea turtles since it opened over 30 years ago in Marathon in the Middle Keys. The facility is equipped with three “turtle ambulances” for emergencies and patient transport.
“We hope to find something out, getting 22 sea turtles at once, and we will be tracking them and keeping good records, but there is no history other than just turtles washing up on the beaches in the springtime,” Zirkelbach added.