With more than 180 hypothermic sea turtles rescued from Cape Cod, a second group of 30 re-warmed reptiles was flown south by volunteer pilots today.

As more than 180 endangered and hypothermic sea turtles have been rescued in less than two weeks from Cape Cod and with no end in sight, volunteer pilots are flying some of the re-warmed and medically stable turtles from the New England Aquarium’s marine animal care center to other rehab facilities along the East Coast.

Wednesday morning, 30 sea turtles were flown from the Marshfield, MA, municipal airport, the second such group in the past 72 hours. These turtle transports are critical in keeping the pipeline of care running smoothly for the world’s most endangered sea turtle species. Jamie Gamble, a private pilot from Granby, Connecticut, and his college-aged daughter flew 30 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles to North Carolina, where they will finish their rehab. On Sunday, 30 other Kemp’s turtles were flown by a New Jersey pilot to the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

a rescuer holds a turtle
An endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle is taken out of a holding tank and drained of water before being packed for an air transport to North Carolina.
closeup of turtle getting fluids
The re-warmed and medically stable sea turtles all receive extra fluids to help sustain them on their flight.
rescuers load banana box onto transport van
A sea turtle in a banana box is loaded into a NOAA van for transport to Marshfield Airport.

In the past several years, the number of mostly juvenile, cold-stunned sea turtles that strand on Cape Cod late each autumn has more than tripled, from an annual average of about 90 to more than 300. The Aquarium’s state-of-the-art sea turtle hospital was built before the explosion in stranding numbers. Even with some expansion, the unpredictability of how many turtles can wash up given the right wind conditions makes managing the Aquarium’s hospital capacity critical. Being able to move a large number of re-warmed and medically stable sea turtles to other rehab facilities quickly is a major asset that has been met by a remarkable aviation group called Turtles Fly Too. Coordinating with NOAA and the Aquarium, Idaho-based Leslie Weinstein has rallied the general and business aviation communities to provide critically important flights that aid in the recovery of endangered sea turtle species. Boise is several hundred miles from the ocean, but Weinstein grew up in Florida and serves on the board of a prominent sea turtle conservation organization there.

Over the past several years, the volunteer pilots of Turtles Fly Too have transported more than 500 endangered and threatened sea turtles from the New England Aquarium’s care to dozens of rehab facilities in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and other states for further rehabilitation and eventual release back into the wild.

Air transports are exceptionally valuable in reducing the stress on recovering but compromised sea turtles as ground transports might take two or three days. Volunteers pilots from both the business and general aviation communities donate their planes, time, fuel costs, and skill in helping three species of sea turtles make a steady recovery.

volunteer pilot climbs into plane
Pilot Jamie Gamble enters his plane just before departure.

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