Turtle Spotlight: Exciting Moves & Gertrude’s New Home!

February 11th was an exciting and busy day here at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium! Not only did many of our residents get re-located to different pools, but also one of our rehab turtles, Gertrude, was given a new home… in Kansas City!

The day began by pulling every one of our residents and giving them an annual physical. In the world of turtles, a physical means that the turtle has a full blood sample taken; they get weighed, and then measured before being returned to their pool (or before being put into their new pool!) it took approximately 3 hours to complete this process on each of our 9 resident sea turtles. We would like to thank our interns and the volunteers who came in very early that morning to assist with this project, because we would not have been able to complete this huge undertaking without all of you help.

While Titus, Cocoa, and our stubborn boy, Norman, remain at home in “Turtle Bayou”, Bailey has moved inside from “Sawyer’s Passage”, and is now sharing “Turtle Cove” with Stubby, Rob, and Cupid. Max, Madam, Molly, and Stumpy were relocated outside to “Sawyer’s Passage”, and they seem to be enjoying their new, larger pool!

February 11th was also a big day for Gertrude (October’s “Spotlight Turtle”) because she was picked up by staff members from Kansas City’s Sea Life Aquarium, where she was transported to become a permanent resident! Gertie is the state of Missouri’s FIRST sea turtle, and the staff at the Sea Life Aquarium is excited to have her, as we were to find her a new (and permanent!) home. We have been lucky enough to receive updates on Gertie’s progress (she was moved out of quarantine only 4 days after her arrival) and are happy to know she is in a beautiful exhibit, a very large pool filled with rocks and fish, and is in the hands of some excellent Sea Life Aquarium Staff members that will give her a great quality of life. While Gertie will be missed, she was a successful Clearwater Marine Aquarium rehabilitation story, with a great ending! Information about Gertie’s new home can be found on the Kansas City Sea Life Aquarium’s website, and footage documenting her travels can be found on YouTube!

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“A sea turtle protection plan includes many popular South Florida beaches in the new critical habitat zone. The entire Palm Beach County coast will be part of the Loggerhead turtle protection zone if a US Fish and Wildlife Service proposal is approved. The northern section of the Broward County coastline is also inside the designated area.   The US Fish and Wildlife agency wants to make 739 miles of the coast from North Carolina to Mississippi a critical habitat area for the threatened species of sea turtles. Loggerhead turtles make annual pilgrimages to the area to lay their eggs.

The federal agency proposal unveiled on Friday include more than 40 beaches in Florida. The Canaveral National Seashore is also on the list of sea turtle critical habitat locations. The proposed habitat protection plan is not expected to have a negative impact on beachgoers. The US Fish and Wildlife proposal could potentially impact beach renourishment projects and the garnering of federal permits.   The coastal regions that have long been the nesting place for the Loggerhead turtles have changed significantly. Sea turtles have instinctively journeyed to the area for thousands of years. In 2012, more than 58,000 sea turtles nests were found o Florida beaches.   Sea turtles are among the most ancient creatures on Earth. A total of seven species still alive today have reportedly been swimming around the ocean for 110 million years.   Unlike tortoises and other species of turtles, sea turtles cannot retract their heads and legs into their shells.”

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Scientists are discovering that sea turtles are highly contaminated with industrial chemicals and pesticides

ByBrett Israel and Environmental Health News

“From the moment they are born, sea turtles fight to survive. Buried alive, they dig themselves out and evade hungry crabs and birds as they crawl to the ocean, where they begin a long and treacherous migration. One out of 1,000 will survive into adulthood. And those that do will bear a toxic burden.

Scientists are discovering that sea turtles, long ignored by toxicologists who study wildlife, are highly contaminated with industrial chemicals and pesticides.

Loggerhead turtles have altered immune systems and smaller eggs that some studies have linked to contaminants. These chemicals kill turtle cells in lab experiments, and based on research in other marine life, scientists suspect that sea turtles may be vulnerable to thyroid, liver and neurological damage.

No one, however, knows the extent to which sea turtles in the wild may be harmed.

While other ocean creatures, including whales, seals and some fish, are well-studied, the chemical threats to sea turtles remain mostly hidden under a shell.

Decimated by climate change, poaching, accidental snaring and ocean trash, all U.S. species of sea turtles are protected by the Endangered Species Act, which makes studying them difficult.”

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From Science World Report, By Catherine Griffin.

The massive Pacific leatherback sea turtle is known for its long, 6,000-mile trek from the U.S. West Coast to its breeding grounds in Indonesia. The largest turtles on Earth, they can grow up to seven feet long and exceed 2,000 pounds. They’re currently the last, living representatives of a family of turtles that traces its evolutionary roots back more than 100 million years. Yet now, these turtles may be going extinct–and quickly. Researchers estimate that in only 20 years, we could see the last of the leatherback sea turtles.

The announcement comes after a study was published this week in the journal Ecosphere. It estimates that a mere 500 leatherback turtles currently breed at their last, large nesting site in the Pacific. The population has plummetted from the thousands that previously nested there.

In order to track this decline, researchers examined population numbers from the 1980s and onward. In the past 27 years, the scientists noted that the western Pacific leatherback turtle numbers have dropped by a staggering 78 percent, placing its status firmly as critically endangered.

Currently, more than 75 percent of the population of these turtles nest at the remote Bird’s Head Peninsula on New Guinea. In the last breeding season alone, 489 turtles nested there. While this makes population numbers easier to track, it also makes the turtles a target. Local fishermen still capture and kill leatherbacks in order to consume the meat. In addition, they also harvest the turtle eggs that are laid.

Humans impacts aren’t the only threats these turtles have to contend with, though. On some beachs as few as 20 percent of eggs hatch due to increased beach temperatures. These temperatures could further worsen due to climate change, leaving fewer viable offspring.

“If the decline continues, leatherback turtles will become extinct in the Pacific Ocean within 20 years,” said Than Wibbels, a member of the research team studying the turtles, in an interview with Reuters.

It’s not all grim, though. The Atlantic leatherback, which is genetically different from the Pacific leatherback, has made a comeback in recent years. Due to mutual country agreements to ban harvesting adults or eggs on beaches, they have been able to reproduce successfully and rebuild population numbers. If the same can be done for the Pacific leatherback, the turtle may be able to avoid extinction.

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