Helping wayward manatees & turtle hatchlings

There is more than meets the eye when it comes to the Coast Guard. While search and rescue and law enforcement tend to dominate the headlines, that doesn’t mean the Coast Guard isn’t performing other missions in communities across our nation. One of these roles is living marine resources, a vital mission of enforcing laws to protect marine mammals and endangered species.

releasing turtles

Chief Petty Officer Nicholas Ingersoll, Seaman Megan Bigelow, Seaman Dani Garcia and Martha Carroll, biologist for the 45th Civil Engineer Squadron, release turtle hatchlings into warmer waters offshore. U.S. Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jon-Paul Rios.

The Coast Guard teams up with a variety of organizations to aid in endangered species response for animals, including sea turtles and manatees.

Coast Guard Station Port Canaveral recently partnerned with Cape Canaveral Air Force Station biologists and answered the call to provide a ride for 29 newly-born green sea turtles. The hatchlings were more than 50 days late hatching from their nest and needed to get to warm water to feed. However, because they were so late, the water near the shore was too cold for them to enter.

The turtles and Air Force biologists caught a ride with a Coast Guard rescue boat 20 miles offshore to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association buoy where the water temperature hovered around 70 degrees. The hatchlings’ chance of survival greatly increased instead of leaving them to fend for themselves in colder waters.

“Assisting with endangered wildlife is nothing new for the crew of this station, from diligently patrolling manatee zones to rescuing injured animals,” said Cheif Petty Officer Nicholas Ingersoll, Station Port Canaveral’s first lieutenant. “Once the biologists from the 45th Space Wing contacted the station to request assistance, we immediately gathered an all volunteer non-duty crew to make the 40 nautical mile round-trip journey. We see it as just another type of rescue mission.”

turtle hatchlings

These turtles took 109 days to hatch, which was more than 50 days longer than usual. The turtles risked being washed back to shore because colder water temperature tends to inhibit their ability to swim. Photo courtesy of Julie Dayringer

Much like the green sea turtle, the West Indian manatee is another species the Coast Guard works to protect. The manatee has been on the endangered species list since 1967 and is protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973 and the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972.

Manatees are an extremely vulnerable species, only able to live in warm waters because they have very low tolerances to colder temperatures. Watercraft-related strikes, entrapment and entanglement in fishing lines all threaten the manatee’s way of life.

The Coast Guard has responded to multiple stranding cases in the past of manatees that have gone astray into colder waters. For out-of-habitat manatees, the Coast Guard can provide either cutter or aerial transport to rescue the manatees and bring them back to more tepid waters.

Manatee transport

Crewmembers from Coast Guard Air Station Miami and the Miami Seaquarium help offload a wayward manatee from a C-130 Hercules aircraft. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Sabrina Elgammal.

“The Fish and Wildlife Service’s partnership with the Coast Guard and other agencies is crucial to complete our missions and protect the endangered West Indian manatee,” said Nicole Aidmey, United States Fish and Wildlife Service manatee coordinator for the Southeast Region. “Aligning our capabilities with the Coast Guard will enhance our commitment to protecting these and many more species and their habitats.”

But it takes more than just the Coast Guard and Fish and Wildlife Service to protect endangered species. Many of the cases the Coast Guard responds to are in response to the public alerting the proper authorities.

When you are on or near the water, be aware of the local laws and regulations and whether you are in an environmentally protected area. Always be respectful to the rules in place like no-wake zones and dispose of your trash properly. And if you see violations or emergencies, report them to your local Coast Guard station or state wildlife agency.

As a leader in living marine resource stewardship, the Coast Guard will continue their commitment to protect our nation’s critical habitats and marine life.

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