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WEST DENNIS, MASS. (July 31, 2023) – U.S. Senator Ed Markey joined the New England Aquarium on Monday night to release eight rehabilitated sea turtles, months after they stranded on the shores of Cape Cod.
Staff and volunteers from the New England Aquarium and Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary gathered with legislative staff as six Kemp’s ridley and two green sea turtles were returned to the ocean from West Dennis Beach. Sen. Markey (D-MA), who has been an advocate for creating direct financial support to organizations providing sea turtle stranding response and rehabilitation, released “Orzo,” a critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. The New England Aquarium, in partnership with National Aquarium and South Carolina Aquarium, is working with Sen. Markey, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Rep. Bill Keating (D-MA-8), and Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR) to introduce and advance the bipartisan Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act. The bill would help provide the federal funding for institutions across the country to continue sea turtle conservation efforts and is endorsed by over 60 institutions across the country, from Texas to Maine.
“The sea turtles released today had a happy ending thanks to the great work of the New England Aquarium, but too many of our nation’s critically endangered sea turtles don’t get a second chance at life,” said Sen. Markey. “My bipartisan Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act would provide much-needed federal funds for life-saving rescue, rehabilitation, and research efforts for sea turtles throughout American waters and coasts.”
The sea turtles became hypothermic in Cape Cod Bay in December 2022 and washed ashore, where they were rescued by the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary team. The turtles spent the next eight months at the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital in Quincy, MA, being treated for life-threatening conditions that resulted from them being unable to regulate their body temperature and feed, including pneumonia, dehydration, and trauma. In keeping with this year’s turtle-naming theme of pasta and noodles, the group of eight sea turtles released Monday night also included Tagliatelle, Ziti, Tortellini, Fettuccine, Spaetzle, Ditalini, and Farfalle.
“Seeing these turtles return to the ocean is what has driven all of us at the New England Aquarium to continue this life-saving work over the past three decades,” said Adam Kennedy, Director of Rescue and Rehabilitation. “Operating one of the largest sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation programs in the world wouldn’t be possible without the assistance of a collaborative network of rescue partners, and we are grateful for the support from Sen. Markey and the Massachusetts delegation so that we can all continue this conservation work.”
During the 2022 cold-stunning season, the Aquarium treated 518 live sea turtles. Once turtles are stabilized, staff veterinarians in collaboration with Rescue biologists examine animals that need further care and clear others for travel to secondary rehabilitation facilities. Turtles with more critical injuries remain at the New England Aquarium long-term, where many are fully rehabilitated before being released back into the ocean. The Aquarium works closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Fisheries Service, Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, and the nonprofit organization Turtles Fly Too to save the sea turtles, many of which are transferred to partner organizations across the country to continue rehabilitation. The success of this operation depends on the network of organizations that collaborate to ensure hundreds of turtles survive each cold-stunning season.
The number of annual cold-stunned sea turtle strandings in Massachusetts varies from year to year but has steadily increased from around 50 in 2000 to more than 700 in 2021. Researchers have predicted through statistical modeling that by 2031, these events may bring thousands of sea turtles to our shores annually.
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