New England Aquarium releases 12 rescued sea turtles in Florida.

One of the released turtles, a rescued loggerhead turtle named Toast, completes an amazing survival story.

On Tuesday morning, Toast, a rescued loggerhead sea turtle laid on a sunny Florida beach in 80-degree temperatures waiting to start a second life in the wild. In an amazing contrast, the last time that the 37-pound loggerhead had been on a beach was this past December, when it was found near death in 25-degree temperatures on Cape Cod. When discovered, Toast was hypothermic and emaciated and had three major wounds on its shell, most likely inflicted from a propeller strike.

An intake photo of “Toast” to the New England Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital from December 2018 suffering from a major shell fracture, most likely due to a propeller strike and hypothermia with a body temperature in the 40s.
An intake photo of “Toast” to the New England Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital from December 2018 shows the turtle with a major shell fracture, most likely due to a propeller strike. Toast also was suffering from hypothermia, with a body temperature in the 40s.
Toast makes his way down the Florida beach. Toast got its name in part from the beauty of its brown shell, but each year, the Aquarium’s rescue biologists use a different naming theme, which this past year was breakfast foods.

Over the past four and half months, the brown-shelled turtle experienced an inspiring story of survival thanks to the veterinary and rehabilitation expertise of the New England Aquarium and the rescue efforts of Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.

After a long rehabilitation, Toast, along with 11 other sea turtles that also stranded late last autumn in Massachusetts, were driven down the East Coast to Little Talbot Island State Park near Jacksonville, Fla., and placed on the beach, where they rapidly flippered their way through the sand and excitedly entered the warm, welcoming surf. Hopefully, these young turtles will be found in 10 to 15 years on and near nesting beaches and contribute to the recovery of these endangered and threatened sea turtle populations.

Toast was among more than 300 sea turtles that the Aquarium’s marine animal rescue team warmed and treated last November and December. This mass stranding of sea turtles happens annually over a two-month period and is unknown to happen anywhere else in the world on such a large scale. Juvenile sea turtles migrate up the East Coast each summer to feed on crabs around Cape Cod. Most migrate back south in the early autumn. The unique geography of this large peninsula poses navigation problems for many marine animal species. For sea turtles caught north of the Cape by October, they slowly become disabled by the steadily dropping ocean temperatures. The average number of sea turtle strandings due to hypothermia has more than tripled in less than a decade. Researchers believe that major increases in local sea surface temperatures due to climate change and better nesting numbers have contributed to that dramatic increase.

The timing of Toast’s shell fracture is unknown, but the massive trauma most likely kept it from being able to migrate. Over several weeks,  Toast’s body temperature fell from the preferred 70s to the low 40s. Over that time, it could not forage effectively and used up most of its body fat. Early winter winds then created large enough wave activity to wash up the listless sea turtles, including Toast, onto the beaches of the Outer Cape. Toast was found by the Mass Audubon rescuers on Great Island in Wellfleet and brought to the Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital in Quincy. Toast was slowly warmed over several days. Despite its major wounds, Toast was active, vigorous, and ready to eat from early in his recovery. It was admitted at a skinny 28 pounds and left at a robust 37 pounds, a 28% gain in body weight. Aquarium veterinarians cleaned and repaired his shell fractures and that required several months to completely heal.

a sea turtle is released in Florida in April 2019
Toast enters the warm surf off Little Talbot Island State Park near Jacksonville.

With many turtles ready for release, Aquarium biologists needed to find the nearest 70-degree ocean waters. Northern Florida was closest. On Earth Day, biologist Linda Lory and dedicated volunteers Theresa Padvaiskas and Alessia Brugnara packed up a dozen sea turtles that were cleared for release and drove down Interstate 95 to Jacksonville. About 24 hours later, Toast and 11 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles raced down the beach to begin their second lives.

Read more about other Aquarium efforts to assist cold-stunned sea turtle.

If you want to support our efforts to rescue and release sea turtles as well as continue all our research, conservation, and education programs, please consider donating to the New England Aquarium.