Last month, as the New England Aquarium released seven endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles that the team rescued and rehabilitated, Dr. Charles Innis, director of Animal Health, traveled to Washington, DC, to testify before Congress about the critical nature of this work. In front of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, Dr. Innis shared research on the increasing threats facing endangered sea turtles, the work of the New England Aquarium conducts alongside fellow Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network partners to protect these marine species, and support for H.R.7918, also known as the Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act.

Dr. Innis preparing for his testimony before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife.

The United States government classifies all known sea turtle species present in US waters as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Fisheries bycatch, marine entanglements, coastal development, ocean industrialization, and climate change have led to increasing numbers of stranded sea turtles that need rescue and rehabilitation support. Sea turtles that frequent New England’s waters are at particular risk for cold-stunning as water temperatures drop or unexpected weather events occur, which is a phenomenon similar to hypothermia in humans and can be fatal. Dr. Innis shared that just 20 years ago, the New England Aquarium’s animal care facility in Quincy, MA, admitted dozens of these cold-stunned turtles per year. But since 2010, these numbers have steadily increased. Just last year, the New England Aquarium admitted 500 turtles.

To help advance the conservation and recovery of endangered sea turtles, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) established the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network (STSSN). Participating organizations throughout the US, such as the Aquarium, play a critical role responding to stranded sea turtles, collecting scientific data, transporting sea turtles to rehabilitation facilities, providing veterinary care, and educating the public about these important conservation efforts. But, as Dr. Innis shared, many facilities rely on their own budgets and donations to cover intervention, rescue, and rehabilitation expenses. In order for the federal, state, and organizational members of STSSN to best respond to these growing threats, a dedicated federal sea turtle rescue and assistance program is imperative.

The New England Aquarium’s Rescue and Rehabilitation team at a Summer 2022 sea turtle release.

The Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act, introduced by Representative Bill Keating (D-MA-9) and Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) would help fill this widening funding gap, providing much-needed financial support for institutions to continue their sea turtle rescue, recovery, and research work. In front of members of the Congressional Committee, Dr. Innis emphasized how the passage of this bill will improve the ability of institutions like ours to continue providing world-class care for these sea turtles and successfully monitor the long-term impacts of our efforts.

Testifying in support of the bill is one of many ways to build support for this bill and ensure its passage. Fifty institutions from across the country have signed a statement of support, and people all across the country have reached out to their legislators to cosponsor the legislation.

Add your voice to these growing numbers! With your help, we can effectively support endangered sea turtle species and the institutions leading critical rescue, rehabilitation, and protection work for years to come.