Every year, thousands of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles make their way up the Eastern seaboard this summer, but not all of them made it back as the cold weather came. The Florida Aquarium had to take in 10 turtle victims of what is known as “cold stunning”, a hypothermic reaction to prolonged cold water temperatures and its often fatal.
They’re the most critically endangered sea turtles in the world. They have a place in the ecosystem – just consider them the canary in the coal mine. They are an indicator species of the overall health of an ecosystem. When you start to see fewer and fewer sea turtles, that’s an indication that there could be problems with the local ecosystem.Mike Terrell
This year, about 700 turtles didn’t make it through the icy waters and washed ashore or were found helpless at sea, so overwhelmed northeastern aquariums sought Florida’s help. A Coast Guard aircraft carried 193 turtles from cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Orlando, with the patients being divided among facilities around the state, like in Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota, the Fish and Wildlife research Institute in St. Petersburg and Tampa’s aquarium on Channelside Drive.
Mike Terrell, the director of husbandry for the Aquarium, had this to say: “They’re the most critically endangered sea turtles in the world. They have a place in the ecosystem – just consider them the canary in the coal mine. They are an indicator species of the overall health of an ecosystem. When you start to see fewer and fewer sea turtles, that’s an indication that there could be problems with the local ecosystem.”
According to Terrell, this is what led to the extraordinary effort to save the urtles, because if the populations was holding steady, nature could simply take its toll. However, things like beach development, plastics and other ocean trash and human intervention have decimated the sea turtle population. Cristy Barrett, a senior biologist at the Aquarium, says: “The point is to keep the species alive. When you lose that many turtles, you lose a lot of scientific diversity. It’s really important to save every single life that we can.”
Now, Barrett and her co-workers are keeping watch over the 10 turtles they have under their care in Tampa, providing them with liquids, keeping them lubricated and tending to their injuries. The turtles will be there for at least another year, in order to ensure their survival.
This archive content was originally published November 30, 2014 (www.betawired.com)