Turtle Back Zoo’s Turtle Rescue Sets Turtles Free

By Dawn M Chiossi

    Over at West Orange Turtle Back Zoo, it’s like having the world in the backyard, filled with animals to discover and learn about.  One of the most interesting of those animals are the sea turtles.


    On February 26th, Turtle Recovery officials were thrilled to announce that they set free seven injured sea turtles back into the wild. There’s something majestic about these sea creatures. They are one of the most ancient of animals, having been around for an extraordinary 110 million years. Unfortunately, all species of sea turtles are threatened or endangered.


  The Sea Turtle Recovery Organization, located inside the Turtle Back Zoo, opened its doors in December of 2016.  This nonprofit is the only long-term care organization for sea turtles in New Jersey. More importantly, they are advocates for these creatures helping them to survive. They have helped approximately 37 sea turtles to date.


     According to Co-Executive Officer of the Sea Turtle Recovery, Brandi Biehl, sea turtles can become endangered for all kinds of reasons including boat propeller strikes, illness, trash ingestion and much more. Sea turtles are different from other turtles because their shell is streamlined for swimming through the water. Unlike other turtles, where retracting into their shell is a defense mechanism and a protective action–sea turtles cannot do this. In a very real way, it makes them vulnerable.


 In the case of these recently rescued seven sea turtles, they were cold stunned in Cape Cod Bay. That’s where the efforts of Sea Turtle Recovery come in. They are responsible for the vet care, medicine, surgeries, staffing, education, and other needs of sea turtles. Even more, these passionate people are advocates for these sick and injured creatures. Their mission is to set them free once they recover.


    The inspiration for the Sea Turtle Recovery Center came from two devoted marine scientists, Bill Deerr and Brandi Biehl seeking to provide injured sea turtles in New Jersey the same kind of immediate long term care that other sea turtle recovery centers out of state have. That way the turtles do not have to endure stressful travel outside of the state.  


    “A number of Sea Turtles came in when they failed to migrate to warm water before temperatures become too cold. They stop eating and become lethargic, they need help to survive. While sea turtles do not nest in New Jersey, four species use our coast frequently for feeding and travel,” Biehl explains.


    Before being set free, the turtles were microchipped to be studied.

    So why aid sea turtles? These creatures are important to humans regarding food sources–Green Sea Turtles will graze on and control sea grass for fish nurseries that will ultimately provide us with food. According to Biehl, sea turtles can be an indicator species as well. That means if their populations get sick and start washing ashore in massive numbers, they may indicate problems with their and our food supply such as crab, clams, fish and other seafood that is so very beneficial to the ecosystem.


    “In a world that seems so full of negative stories and events, you only have to look so far as the sea turtle for hope,” Biehl shares. “Some of these turtles come in with a weak pulse, failed kidneys, propeller cuts all the way through their shells, ingestion of balloons…they have every reason not to survive, but they never give up. Even when they are in shallow water kiddie pools that are just inches deep, they push themselves off of the bottom and try to gain strength to swim, they take deep breaths and lift their heads high, they eat or respond to tube feeding and never give up. Each day they fight to survive…They inspire hope by beating the odds over and over,”

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