Posts Tagged 'sea turtle'



Going on midnight turtle patrol in Costa Rica

From Laura Bankey, Director of Conservation

I’m back in the United States after an amazing trip to Costa Rica. Our last group adventure took us to Manuel Antonio National Park. Relatively speaking, the area around this National Park is pretty developed, and many Costa Ricans come here for the beaches. It has had some problems in the past from pollution from the nearby towns contaminating the streams and development cutting off access for the animals. It has gotten much better, but it will only stay that way if people continue to be diligent.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park

The park has several trails that cut through the forest and end up on the beaches of the Pacific. Along the way, our group saw amazing insects like golden orb spiders, baby tarantulas, walking sticks, and huge grasshoppers. We also saw howler monkeys, crab-eating raccoons, white-tailed deer, two- and three-toed sloths, a yellow-crowned night heron, tree boa, and many black iguanas. The monkeys and raccoons have learned to steal food from the tourists on the beach, similar to the way raccoons take food from campers in our parks! If you want the comfort of an accessible park with nearby conveniences, all the while providing spectacular views and glimpses of local wildlife, this park is for you.

Bats, Howler Monkey, Heron

Lesser white lines bats, howler monkey, and yellow-crowned night heron

On Saturday I left the rest of the group at the airport and met up with one of our conservation partners for a trip to the Caribbean. Didiher Chacon, director of WIDECAST (Wider  Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network) Latin America, drove us to one of his sea turtle nesting beaches just south of Tortuguerro National Park.

This project is being run by the wonderful people of La Tortuga Feliz foundation, and Didiher has been their adviser for the past couple of years. Like many turtle conservation projects in Costa Rica, it is run by just a few staff members and relies on volunteers to do much of the work. The good ones, like this one, also actively seek support from the local community. In this case, the community employs local guides for turtle walks!

We got to the site in the late afternoon after a short boat ride from the nearest town. The staff and volunteers were all amazing, several of them deciding to stay long term after falling in love with the place and the project during their three-week volunteer stint.

Within the hour, we had discovered that one of the leatherback sea turtle nests in the hatchery was erupting and baby turtles were emerging. We helped gather them up for weights and measurements and placed them in a container for a later release. We did not want to release them in the middle of the day when the black sand was too hot and predators could easily spot them. At dusk, we went back down to the hatchery to let them go. It was a truly wonderful experience. I have participated in several nesting events, but never before witnessed this part of the process. What a sight!

After the release, I gave a presentation to the local community and project staff and volunteers on the National Aquarium’s work with sea turtles. There was no electricity at the site, so we hooked the computer and projector up to a generator for the presentation. Since there are very few sea turtle nests in our area, I mostly spoke about the work our Marine Animal Rescue Program does with rescue, rehabilitation, and release of our local species. I talked about the care our patients receive by our veterinary staff and the technologies we use for diagnosis. I talked about the time and effort our MARP staff and volunteers put in to the care of each animal and the joy of watching them be released back into their natural environment. It was easy to connect with my audience (even through the translator) because it was obvious that we were all participating in different but equally important aspects of the conservation of these amazing animals.

At midnight I joined a turtle patrol. Each night during the nesting season, local guides and project volunteers walk the beach to look for nesting turtles. In this region, it’s important to relocate all nests to the hatchery because poaching and turtle hunting is still prevalent, even though it is illegal in Costa Rica. While walking the beach, we saw a group of civil police on patrol. They were there to catch poachers. Later on, we heard that they confronted nine poachers that night and had confiscated a machete, sacks, and other poaching equipment. At first, I was comforted by the police presence on the beach, but Didiher informed me that in his two years on this project, this was only the second time he’s seen them and that they don’t have the resources to patrol regularly. In fact, their presence that evening was only made possible because La Tortuga Feliz paid for the gas for their boat.

The locals I spoke with that evening were passionate about saving these animals, but were disheartened by the continued disregard for the laws, and the inability of local law enforcement to enforce the laws. They are working very hard in their outreach efforts, for both local communities and in national campaigns, to emphasize the importance of protecting sea turtles, but as with all movements, this will take time. In the meantime, groups like WIDECAST, La Tortuga Feliz, and, most importantly, the local citizens that are working with them are providing a necessary foundation for the conservation of these species.

Healthy animals make their way home

It’s been an exciting week for the Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program, as they have traveled across Maryland to release six rehabilitated animals back to their ocean habitat!

Last Friday, the team traveled to Ocean City, Maryland, to release Guinness, the juvenile gray seal that originally stranded in Kittyhawk, North Carolina, on March 17, and days later came to the National Aquarium for rehabilitation.

Watch a video of Guinness’ release:

Just two days later, the team traveled to Point Lookout State Park in Scotland, Maryland, to release five rehabilitated Kemp’s ridley sea turtles into the Bay. The five turtles, nicknamed Donner, Blitzen, Rudolph, Frosty, and Buddy after winter characters, were part of a larger group of cold-stunned turtles that came to the Aquarium from New England in December. As we’ve shared over the past six months, it has been a long journey for these endangered turtles. The release was certainly a celebration for our MARP team, and the hundreds of people who gathered on the beach to help send the turtles back to sea!

Watch a video of the releases:

Our friends at Oceana joined us for the turtle releases to help educate people about their save the sea turtles campaign, which is dedicated to the protection and restoration of sea turtle populations in the world’s oceans. The campaign works to reduce sea turtle bycatch in fisheries, protect sea turtle habitat and develop legislation to protect sea turtles.

Whenever financially and ethically possible, MARP fits released animals with satellite tags. The tags allow the team to temporarily monitor the migration of reintroduced animals. Whenever the animal surfaces, the tag sends a signal to a satellite, indicating its location.

Thanks to a recent grant, Guinness, Rudolph and Buddy were all affixed with satellite tracking tags. Guinness has already traveled more than 200 miles north, while the turtles seem to be hanging within a 50-mile radius of their release location. You can track their travels on our animal tracking page.

MARP depends on the generosity of volunteers to operate, but medical equipment, medications, and food for caring for these animals is expensive. If you’d like to help support MARP, you can make a donation online, or donate $5 right from your mobile phone by texting ACT to 20222.

A one-time donation of $5 will be added to your mobile phone bill or deducted from your prepaid balance. All donations must be authorized by the account holder. All charges are billed by and payable to your mobile service provider. Service is available on most carriers. Donations are collected for the benefit of the National Aquarium by the Mobile Giving Foundation and subject to the terms found at www.hmgf.org/t. Messaging & data rates may apply. You can unsubscribe at any time by texting STOP to 20222; text HELP to 20222 for help.

A salute to Jimmy & Teddy

This Presidents’ Day, join us in celebrating our two heads of state that are now residing in the Gray’s Reef exhibit at our Washington, DC, venue. Two adorable baby loggerhead sea turtles, named Jimmy and Teddy, came to their new temporary home in the nation’s capital from the North Carolina Aquarium, which is leading an effort to help rebuild sea turtle populations.

Jimmy and Teddy

The two turtles are named after presidents Jimmy Carter and Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt was well known for his conservation role while president; he greatly expanded the National Parks System. The National Aquarium’s freshwater gallery represents many of our National Parks today. Similarly, President Jimmy Carter designated Gray’s Reef, in the southeastern United States, as a National Marine Sanctuary. A Gray’s Reef exhibit is also represented at the Aquarium, and is the current home for the loggerheads.

Sea turtles have a challenging life. Weighing just 20 grams at birth, they face many natural predators both on the sandy beaches where they are hatched and in the oceans where they will dwell when they get older. Loggerheads were once actively hunted for their eggs and meat, and still are in some places of the world. Because of their low survival rate, they have been classified as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

In order to help save these magnificent animals from extinction, we participate in the North Carolina Aquarium’s program that gives baby sea turtles a better chance at survival. Through this program, sea turtle hatchlings spend time in aquariums where they can safely grow. Once they are given a clean bill of health and an extra boost of nutrition, they are released back to the ocean.

The turtles were hatched on September 1 in North Carolina, and were brought to the Aquarium in mid-November. They have already tripled their weight since they arrived! The turtles now weigh more than 350 grams each. It is estimated that they will weigh around 1,500 grams (a little over 3 pounds) by fall when they will be returned to North Carolina for release into the ocean. Eventually, these turtles could weigh up to 200 pounds!

Under the Aquarium’s care, the turtles are measured monthly and will undergo exams with X-rays and blood work at 6 months old and 1 year old. The staff is also monitoring their calcium levels to ensure healthy shell growth. They are pole fed by the staff, who have noticed that the turtles love to steal food from the fish. They are very quick and love diving to the bottom to pick up leftovers that the fish don’t eat.

Next time you are visiting Washington, DC, stop in to see our adorable heads of state, and salute two presidents who contributed so much to the conservation of some of the most precious habitats our great country has to offer!

A special Halloween costume

Our green sea turtle, Calypso, became costume inspiration for 4-year-old Gabe last Halloween. As three-year members, Gabe’s family visits the Aquarium quite often, making a trip once every five weeks. Through these frequent visits, Gabe has had time to explore many of the underwater creatures at the Aquarium.

Out of all the interesting animals Gabe has encountered, he is most fascinated with Calypso. Calypso is unlike the other aquatic animals because she has only three flippers.

Calypso is a rescued turtle that was stranded off the coast of Long Island, New York, in 2000. The female turtle was suffering from a condition called cold stunning, which is similar to hypothermia in humans. Turtle body temperatures normally range from 76° to 80° Fahrenheit, but Calypso’s body was only a frigid 40.7° Fahrenheit. Additionally, one of her flippers was found to have a severe infection, and had to be amputated. Due to the amputation, Calypso had a low chance of surviving in the wild, so the National Aquarium adopted her and made the Wings in the Water habitat her permanent home.

Although Calypso has only three flippers now, she is still very active. She leads a healthy life by munching on greens regularly. Gabe likes to watch her eat lettuce during feeding time. He also enjoys watching Calypso glide through the water with the other animals in the exhibit, including rays, sharks and several fish species.

Gabe’s costume idea became a reality after his school, and particularly his art teacher, agreed to help with the construction of it. The body of the costume was made out of papier-mâché. A matching camouflage hat and green sweatsuit completed the turtle look. The costume turned out wonderfully, and Gabe loved being his favorite animal for Halloween!

Has an aquatic animal ever been the inspiration for your Halloween costume? If so, send your story and pictures to media@aqua.org and we’ll post them on our blog!

Rescued sea turtle awaits release

After spending over a year in rehabilitation at the National Aquarium, the loggerhead sea turtle rescued by the Aquarium’s Marine Animal Resque Program (MARP) last July is now ready to be returned to the ocean! The MARP team will release the turtle from Assateague State Park on Saturday, September 19th in conjunction with Maryland Coastal Bays program’s Coast Day event.

MARP rescued the turtle after it was found in dire condition by the United States Coast Guard off the coast of Ocean City, Maryland. The underweight turtle had living organisms and epibionts embedded on its shell, so it could not dive properly. Fortunately, with the help of Johns Hopkins Hospital and Outpatient Center, the Aquarium’s vet team was able to bring the the turtle to full recovery.

Here is a recent video of the turtle swimming about in the rehabilitation pool:

This was one of the longest rehabilitation periods for a marine animal rescued by MARP.  Within months, the turtle’s shell surface healed and it was able to regain diving ability and a normal diet.  Achieving these tasks enabled the struggling, 57 pound turtle to gain weight. Since then, it has enjoyed a diet of capelin, squid, and blue crabs and has been maintaining an ideal weight of 90 pounds. The turtle’s rehabilitation period was extended, however, due to infections that had grown deep into the shell as a result of the embedded organisms.

Continue reading ‘Rescued sea turtle awaits release’


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