By Lorenzo Castro E.
Marathon, Florida, US, Dec 4 (efe-epa).- Rescued from the Atlantic waters in Massachusetts, dozens of turtles stunned by the cold are airlifted to a special hospital in the Florida Keys and other centers in warmer parts of the United States, thanks to groups of volunteers who this year carry out their work amid the difficulties posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Every year during the autumn months, which is when the phenomenon known as “cold stunning” occurs, the Turtles Fly Too organization arranges dozens of flights by volunteer pilots from the northern state.
These flights transport Kemp’s ridley sea turtles rescued in Cape Cod Bay, a site where hundreds of young ones get trapped and many eventually die.
These reptiles, the world’s rarest species of sea turtles and which are “critically endangered,” as Turtles Fly Too’s executive director Bonnie Barnes told EFE, go to the bay rich in food during the summer months.
But when the cold water begins to enter, the youngest instinctively seek shallow waters, where they eventually get trapped and some end up stranded on the shore.
Stunned by the cold, unable to swim or eat, and some contracting pneumonia, those rescued by groups of volunteers are taken to aquariums in the northeastern US to be stabilized.
They are then transported by one of the 350 pilots in Barnes’ database, on flights that cost about $35,000 one way, which is made possible thanks to donations and the support of pilots.
Barnes says it’s a lot of work to orchestrate. During the almost 12 weeks that the cold-stunning season lasts, they transport between 200 and up to 600 of these turtles to treatment centers both in Florida, which includes the Miami Seaquarium and SeaWorld Orlando, as well as in Georgia and Louisiana.
It’s a task that this season faces a double challenge.
On one hand, there are more turtles falling prey to cold stunning, which specialists see as another consequence of climate change. On the other, the limitations imposed by the Covid-19 crisis have left many of these centers with less state and private funds.
These centers, which no longer receive the usual figure from previous years, have had to close their doors to young turtles.
Barnes is concerned that the weather patterns of the current season could lead to a situation like that of 2014, when they rescued about 1,200 turtles in a period of two months.
For now they are at about 300, she said, adding that figures until the end of January will depend on how cold the waters remain.
“This is the most turtles that the Turtle Hospital has received at one time from New England,” Bette Zirkelbach, the director of the Turtle Hospital, told EFE, referring to the 40 specimens – twice the usual for each trip – received Saturday night.
The reptiles were immediately cared for by the 15 people who make up the technical and specialist team of this center, that works piecemeal to care for these turtles, some of whom required emergency care due to hypothermia or even infection in their bones.
Built on what used to be a motel in Marathon Key, south Florida, since its inception in 1986 the Turtle Hospital has received and treated more than 1,500 at its facilities, which have an emergency room, X-ray machines and water tanks.
“This year there are hundreds of turtles washing into shore. Facilities are filled to capacity, so the Turtle Hospital is doing their part and taking in as many turtles as we can to help get through the process,” said Zirkelbach.
The 40 turtles, which were part of a group of 64 – of which some 20 were taken to three other centers in Florida – are receiving antibiotics and vitamins, as well as honey to treat injuries to their shells, as well as undergoing blood tests to check potassium levels, among other things.
Later the turtles are returned to Atlantic waters, or for those that cannot be returned to the wild, adopted out