May 15, 2002


After 2 1/2 years of rehab, turtle is back in the swim

By Ludmilla Lelis | Sentinel Staff Writer Posted May 15, 2002

PONCE INLET -- The small boat rocked in the six-foot swells Tuesday, splashing the 120-pound green sea turtle with its first taste of ocean brine in more than two years.

Eager to get back into the ocean, the young turtle started paddling its flippers while it waited. A few moments later, it was lowered into the water and quickly disappeared into the depths.

"It's always sweet to see them released," said Connie Merigo, supervisor of the marine-animal rescue program at New England Aquarium in Boston. "Our goal is to get them back in their natural environment, so the releases are the best part."

This endangered turtle, severely injured from a boat strike, needed 2* years of care before it could be released. The turtle spent its last weeks of captivity at the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet.

Last year, 107 turtles treated at Florida rehabilitation centers were released, according to state records.

First found in Kingsbury Beach, Mass., in November 1999, the turtle had suffered a deep crack in its shell that festered with bacteria, Merigo said. The animal also suffered severe hypothermia because it was unable to head south to warmer waters.

For weeks, experts at the New England Aquarium fed it antibiotics and electrolyte-packed fluids. Then it was outfitted in a cast and a stainless-steel plate while the shell healed.

Merigo said the turtle is a subadult, still a few years and about 200 pounds under less than full-grown. Fully recovered, it was flown to Florida on May 4 for release. Michelle Bauer, turtle rehabilitation specialist at the Volusia center, said the turtle fattened up during its stay. "The extra weight is a good thing, though, so she'll survive better until she finds a good foraging ground," Merigo said.

Ludmilla Lelis can be reached at llelis@orlandosentinel.com or 386-253-0964.
Photograph Credit: Eileen Simoneau, photographer for the Orlando Sentinel

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