Rescued sea turtles from New England Aquarium flown to Georgia and released back into the wild - New England Aquarium
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Rescued sea turtles from New England Aquarium flown to Georgia and released back into the wild


Staff members take extra precautions amid COVID-19 outbreak

Staff members unloading boxes from a vehicle
CREDIT: Vanessa Kahn/New England Aquarium

QUINCY, MASS. (March 31, 2020) – Seventeen endangered sea turtles that were stranded on Cape Cod and rehabilitated by the New England Aquarium have been flown to Georgia and released back into the wild.

The turtles spent four to five months at the Aquarium’s Animal Care Center in Quincy, MA. On Saturday, volunteer pilots with the non-profit organization Turtles Fly Too met animal care staff members at Marshfield Airport to safely get the turtles onboard.

The transport presented a particular challenge amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Staff and crew members wore masks, gloves, and protective eyewear as the work required closer contact than the CDC’s recommended six-foot distancing guideline.

“Transports are always complicated, but this one required an additional level of organization and safety,” said Connie Merigo, Marine Animal Rescue Department Manager. “New England Aquarium staff and the flight crew worked in personal protection equipment and had sanitized all transport supplies ahead of time.”

The 16 recovered Kemp’s Ridleys and one loggerhead were cleared for transport over the past two weeks and released after a brief exam by the head veterinarian and staff at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island. The turtles have been treated for a variety of life-threatening medical conditions that resulted from weeks of hypothermia and the inability to feed during stranding season, which occurs when New England waters quickly turn cold each fall. Rehab time for most turtles is two to four months, but some turtles may need treatment for more than 10 months. There are currently 14 turtles left at the Quincy facility.

“We all look forward to release days, even if we aren’t the ones on the beach releasing the turtles we worked so hard to rehabilitate,” Merigo said. “These days are the most rewarding for our team.”

For more than 30 years, the New England Aquarium has helped rescue, rehabilitate, release, and research endangered and threatened sea turtles. In November and December, staff and volunteers with Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary walk the beaches of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, looking for stranded turtles. These teams save sea turtles from the cold and bring them to the Aquarium’s Animal Care Center for essential medical care. At the Animal Care Center, Aquarium veterinarians, staff biologists, and volunteers work to stabilize the turtles with specialized treatment. Once stabilized, and with the help of organizations like NOAA Fisheries and Turtles Fly Too, the turtles are moved to rehabilitation facilities along the East Coast of the United States and the Gulf of Mexico to make room for additional hypothermic sea turtles.

Link to video and photos (Please credit New England Aquarium):


Pam Bechtold Snyder