Posts Tagged ‘Kemp’s ridley’

Photo: Brocken Inaglory/Wikimedia.
The green sea turtle above is in Hawaii. Others are in Florida, Egypt, and around the world. When threatened species like these get in trouble, they may receive care at a New York rehab center.

Americans are pretty good at volunteering, and there are so many ways to volunteer that everyone should be able to find something that suits them. I like assisting in English classes for immigrants. The volunteers in today’s story get involved with sea turtles under the guidance of scientists.

Dodai Stewart reports at the New York Times, “On a recent Thursday morning, Maxine Montello was at work making breakfast for 48 hungry diners.

“She had a stack of numbered plastic trays, and a clipboard with a list of corresponding menu orders. Methodically, she placed each tray on a scale, cut up pieces of frozen squid and cold raw herring and added them — including heads and tails — measuring just the right amount.

“Pills were hidden inside some of the fish, and Ms. Montello referred to notes about her customers. ‘Some of them don’t like the tails,’ she said. ‘And Number 7 doesn’t like the squid.’ …

“Ms. Montello is the rescue program director at the New York Marine Rescue Center in Riverhead, Long Island, a nonprofit organization stretched to its limits after receiving a record number of sick sea turtles in urgent need of aid this season. …

“The sea turtle swims under the radar. ‘Even people that might spend a fair amount of time on the water in the Northeast might never see a sea turtle,’ said Barbara Schroeder, the sea turtle coordinator for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries. ‘But they do use Northeast waters extensively.’ …

“The rescue center mainly sees two types of sea turtles: green and Kemp’s ridley. Both varieties generally travel north in the summer and spend winters in warmer waters down south.

“The green sea turtle, a threatened species with a beautiful starburst pattern on its shell, can be found all over the world. The Atlantic Ocean population often nests in Florida and travels as far as Massachusetts in the summer. They live to about 70 years old, growing to three feet long and 350 pounds.

“The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, a critically endangered species that nests in Mexico and eats crabs in the waters of New England and the Mid-Atlantic States, is smaller, growing to about 100 pounds.

“Once on the edge of being extinct, the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle has ‘a very positive conservation story,’ said Ms. Schroeder. Shrimp trawling and the killing of nesting turtles and their eggs at their very restricted nesting beaches had caused their numbers to plummet into the hundreds, but the Endangered Species Act, signed 50 years ago, has helped stabilize the population.

“Climate change has created new challenges to the turtles’ survival. Warming waters mean that ‘turtles and other species are expanding their normal territory,’ Ms. Montello explained. ‘So more and more turtles are going further north.’ Then, when cold weather arrives, often suddenly, the turtles are stranded. … Sea turtles are coldblooded, so when the water temperature drops, so does their body temperature. They become cold-stunned — similar to hypothermia — and go into a state of shock, washing up on beaches.

“The rescue center, founded in 1996, usually treats about 30 or 40 cold-stunned sea turtles during the winter. Ms. Montello has looked at records dating back to 1980, and said this year’s numbers are concerning. … ‘This year we had 95.’

“Of the 95 turtles found cold-stunned this season, 48 are still alive and in the care of the rescue center. The others were either dead when they washed up or perished soon after.

‘Their survival is dependent on how quickly they’re found,’ said Ms. Montello. …

“A lot is unknown about these creatures’ lives in the New York area, and much of the data comes from stranded turtles, not thriving ones. Ms. Montello’s research plans involve recording turtle behavior using customized video cameras that will be attached with suction cups to the backs of healthy turtles when they are released. …

“After the raw fish was loaded onto plastic trays, Victoria Gluck, a biologist on staff, carried a tray over to a turtle tank and doled out the meals with tongs, piece by piece, to the corresponding patients, whose numbers were written on their backs with nontoxic paint. Two volunteers, Britney Dowling and Cecilia Gonzalez, used nets to keep the other hungry turtles away as Ms. Gluck placed fish in front of each turtle, ensuring that they all got their allotted share; a turtle is supposed to eat 2 percent of its body weight a day.

“In the wild, sea turtles are solitary, so being in a tank alongside others in the rescue center makes some of the residents grumpy. On a whiteboard in the kitchen, the team had compiled a list of ‘tank bullies’: turtles known to push their tank mates or try to steal their food. …

“A veterinarian visits once a week, but otherwise the staff members — eight total, four full time and four part time, all women — and a small army of citizen scientists and volunteers are responsible for spotting cold-stunned turtles and helping them recuperate.” Read the rest of the story at the Times, here.

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Photo: Lauren Owen Lambert.
A rehabilitator with the Sea Life Aquarium holds one of approximately 85 endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles released at Galveston Beach in Texas last year.

When Suzanne and Erik and the kids were visiting the island of Eleuthera, a local guide gave them a treat. As they maneuvered their rented kayak, the guide stood on his paddle board and led them to where they could see green turtles without harming them. Though listed as endangered, the turtles seemed very happy in Eleuthera. According to Suzanne, they swam really fast and playfully.

Some other endangered turtles have been moving a little too fast — to the hook of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where they get in trouble. That’s when local rescue operations go into high gear.

Lauren Owens Lambert at Vox has the story.

“Sea turtles appear to fly as they swim beneath ocean waves. With long, gray-green flippers that move like slow wingbeats, they glide through the water as birds do through the sky. Actually flying through the air, though, at 10,000 feet above the ground, the reptiles seem anything but graceful.

“Inside the airplane, 120 sea turtles, 118 of which are juvenile Kemp’s ridleys (Lepidochelys kempii), shift uncomfortably among beach towels inside stacked Chiquita banana boxes, their crusty eyes and curved pearlescent beaks peeking through slot handles. The windowless metal cabin vibrates with the sound of propellers as the pilots work to keep the plane aloft and the internal air temperature at a turtle-friendly 22 degrees Celsius (72 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s December 2020, and outside, the cold air above New England slowly gives way to balmier southern temperatures. The pilots are taking the turtles on a 2,900-kilometer (1,800-mile) trip from Massachusetts to Texas’s Gulf Coast.

“Eight hours later, they’re nearly there. ‘We’re coming into Corpus Christi,’ says Mike Looby, a pilot with a sea turtle rescue organization called Turtles Fly Too, as airport runways come into view among the sprawling buildings below. Looby and co-pilot Bill Gisler, both from Ohio, will visit four different locations in Texas to offload the animals. This is the largest number of turtles the organization has transported to date.

“Once the plane is on the tarmac, staff and volunteers from several aquariums and marine rescue facilities crowd around. The pilots gently slide each box of turtles toward the cargo door, and the group lines up to carry them to vans parked nearby.

“ ‘What happened to these guys?’ someone asks.

“ ‘They were found stranded on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts,’ says Donna Shaver, chief of the division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at Padre Island National Seashore, as she grabs a box.

“In the summer months, the waters in the Gulf of Maine where Cape Cod is located are warm, calm, and full of food, serving as a natural nursery for 2- to 4-year-old Kemp’s ridleys, the smallest and most endangered sea turtle in the world. Migrating loggerheads (Caretta caretta), green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas), and the occasional leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) also visit Cape Cod Bay. But as water temperatures plummet in November, December, and January, the cold-blooded turtles must migrate out or perish.

Many lose their way and wash up, cold-stunned, on the inside edge of the hook-shaped Cape, which curls into the ocean like a flexing arm, forming what some locals call ‘the deadly bucket.’ …

“ ‘This area is increasing in water temperature faster than 99 percent of water bodies in the world,’ says Kate Sampson, sea turtle stranding and disentanglement coordinator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), who helps coordinate turtle transport. ‘Because of that, it seems like it’s drawing more sea turtles.’

“Fortunately for the turtles, hundreds of volunteers and several staff members organized by the nonprofit Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary stand at the ready to patrol every inch of the 105-kilometer (65-mile) stretch of beach lining the inner Cape, twice a day, from November through December, no matter the weather. When they find a turtle, the animal begins a logistically complex journey from rescue to rehabilitation and, eventually, to release.

“Saving each flight’s worth of little lives involves approximately five vans, 1,000 miles, four organizations, and 50 people. Without this monumental collaboration across North America’s Eastern Seaboard, other efforts to save the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle from extinction might be futile.”

Read why turtle strandings are on the rise at Vox, here. No firewall.

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