After being rescued from the frigid waters of Cape Cod, 52 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles were flown down to Florida last week for a mandated holiday vacation.
Fresh off a private plane coordinated by the nonprofit Turtles Fly Too, the sea turtles were divided among four Florida aquariums: Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, and the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota.
“Up in the New England Aquarium, they’ve had over 200 sea turtles stranded so far this year,” Marika Weber — a vet technician at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center — told the Associated Press. “What happens when the water temperature drops, the weather changes, is alot of these turtles don’t make it out in time and they become cold-stunned.”
When turtles become “cold-stunned” in rapidly cooling waters, they float at the water’s surface, unable to eat, swim, or dive. After they wash ashore, turtles have a narrow time window to receive warmth and rehabilitation or risk dying from pneumonia and dehydration.
“This is a regular occurrence each winter, and we’ve participated in the continued care of these turtles since 2016,” Clearwater Marine vet Shelly Marquardt said in a statement. “We know that their time in rehabilitation here makes a difference for the future of this endangered species, and we are proud to be able to contribute to their conservation efforts.”
Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the smallest and most critically endangered species of sea turtles. Conservationists estimate that only 7,000 to 9,000 nesting females remain in the wild, a slim number compared to other turtle species like the green sea turtle, whose population is 10 times bigger.
As the turtles recover in warm water tanks and eat special diets to rebuild their strength, the Loggerhead Marinelife Center dubbed them with new names for their stay.
“They always come around the holiday times — it’s either going to be around Thanksgiving or later in December — so we did a holiday theme this year,” Weber said. “We have some of the reindeer, we have Grinch, we have Elf, and we also have Dreidel and Zawadi for all the holidays.”
After rehabilitation and recovery, the juvenile Kemp’s sea turtles will return to their natural habitat to thrive and reproduce on their own.
“It’s important to get them back in the wild where they can help future generations of sea turtles,” Weber said.
Header images courtesy of Jeremy Burke/Oregon Coast Aquarium