Loggerhead rescue: Safeguarding marine animals

Crewmembers from Station Cortez, Fla., recently rescued an injured loggerhead sea turtle. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Crewmembers from Station Cortez, Fla., recently rescued an injured loggerhead sea turtle. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Written by Hayley Rutger, Mote Marine Laboratory

Often, when thinking about Coast Guard rescues, people imagine a rescue swimmer assisting someone in distress or a small boat crew pulling a person from the water. Often forgotten, however, is the Coast Guard’s efforts to protect creatures that live below the water’s surface.

Safeguarding protected marine species falls under the Coast Guard’s living marine resources mission, one of the service’s 11 statutory missions. Recently, U.S. Coast Guard Station Cortez, Fla., upheld this mission by rescuing an injured sea turtle off the coast of Florida.

After receiving the report from a good Samaritan of the injured turtle, Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg, Fla., quickly mobilized a small boat crew from the nearby station and notified a local aquarium and rehabilitation center, Mote.

The 230-pound female loggerhead turtle had a sharp object sticking out of her shell and was unable to dive. The small boat crew lifted the turtle aboard, cradled her atop a large rubber tire and delivered her to a nearby boat ramp. Mote staff and Coast Guard members moved the turtle to a truck and transported the turtle to Mote’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital.

“The Coast Guard did an exemplary job out in the water rescuing this turtle,” said Rebeccah Hazelkorn, staff biologist with Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program. “They made sure the turtle and their personnel were safe the entire time and they contacted our response team at Mote quickly. Their help was immensely important for this challenging rescue, with such a large animal offshore.”

Crewmembers from Staion Cortez, Fla., recently rescued an injured loggerhead sea turtle. The turtle was transferred to Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium for care. Photo courtesy of Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium.

Crewmembers from Staion Cortez, Fla., recently rescued an injured loggerhead sea turtle. The turtle was transferred to Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium for care. Photo courtesy of Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium.

“The Coast Guard and the crew of Station Cortez is devoted to our mission of living marine resource protection,” said Chief Petty Officer Daniel Benoit, the officer in charge at the Coast Guard Station Cortez. “Even though it is not one of our missions that gains the most praise, it is one of our most important, and it is one that we place an incredible sense of pride and professionalism into. Being able to preserve our marine wildlife for our children and offer protection to those species that need it is one of the many highlights of our job. This is one of the main reasons we chose this profession.”

Coast Guard members asked to nickname the turtle “Mrs. Turt Lee” after their supervisor, Chief Petty Officer Ekahi Lee.

Mrs. Turt Lee has fresh boat-strike wounds across her carapace (upper shell), lacerations to both front flippers, damage to her tail and right rear flipper and the mark of an old shark bite. The sharp object initially seen in her shell fell out before she was recovered. Mote staff are providing Mrs. Turt Lee antibiotics, fluid therapy and other care.

Mote’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital has treated more than 450 sea turtle patients since 1995. All sea turtles are endangered or threatened species protected by state and federal laws, so helping each animal recover is vital.

You can follow along on Mrs. Turt Lee’s treatment on Mote’s website.

Keep the Waters Turtle Friendly This Summer

Boaters should follow Coast Guard-approved safe boating guidelines and use vigilance to avoid striking sea turtles and other large marine life.
Be sure to stow trash and line when under way. Marine debris that accidentally blows overboard or out of a truck can become ingested by or entangled around marine life.
Wear polarized sunglasses to better see marine life in your path.
While viewing any large marine animals, follow 10 viewing tips (designed for dolphins, but suitable for other large marine species too).

Mote offers a special thanks to all the Coast Guard members who helped Mrs. Turt Lee: Petty Officer 2nd Class Kyle Gaub, Petty Officer 2nd Class Wilson Sorrentini, Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler Keil, Petty Officer 3rd Class Jose Perez, Fireman Nicklaus Becton and Seaman Jennifer Maynard.

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