Loggerhead sea turtles released after months of rehabilitation

June 28, 2023

“They are 10 minutes out!” To those of us there to volunteer, 10 minutes standing on the beach seemed like forever. Having spent more than 20 years researching and protecting the sea turtle population in Collier County, mostly on Keewaydin Island, Kathy Worley was especially eager.

For Worley, Conservancy of Southwest Florida’s Director of Environmental Science, standing on the shoreline and watching two adult female loggerheads make their way back into the ocean after months of rehabilitation is bittersweet.

“It is a feel-good thing that we can help today. We have done so much to hurt the sea turtle population in one way or another and a lot of it inadvertently, but it’s always good when we as humans can give back and help them.”

Kathy Worley, Conservancy’s Director of Environmental Science

In March, a female loggerhead was found on Vanderbilt Beach in rough shape. She was dehydrated, barnacle covered and weak. A Collier County Sheriff Deputy brought the sea turtle to the Conservancy of Southwest Florida in the middle of the night. Since we do not have the permits to rehab sea turtles, our sea turtle team involved FWC right away and Zoo Miami was called to come pick her up for treatment.

“It is a night and day difference. She is healthy, gained weight and full of energy. She was just ready to get out of the gate and into the water.”

Kathy Worley

In that same month, another sea turtle was found on Barefoot Beach in similar condition.

Conservancy and FWC volunteer, Tim Thompson, was called to the scene. It was a race to get this animal emergency care. Tim could not drive his truck out on the sand or carry a large sea turtle on his own.

Female loggerhead (“Gouda”) found in rough shape on Barefoot Beach

Luckily, a fellow citizen offered to drive their four-wheel jeep on the soft sand and help load the sick loggerhead. The volunteers then helped load the turtle into Tim’s truck. Tim met Zoo Miami in Big Cypress National Preserve with the loggerhead to be transferred to their vehicle as quickly as he could.

According to Zoo Miami, both individuals were suffering from Red Tide exposure, extremely lethargic and covered in barnacles. In addition, they were severely anemic and emaciated. Weighing between 150-170 pounds each, they received a broad spectrum of supportive care ranging from IV fluids and nutrition to antibiotics and de-wormers. They also received a good cleaning to remove the barnacles and algae from over much of their bodies.

“We were feeding them delicious food like crab, fish and shrimp to get them very healthy. We wanted to send them back knowing that they were in a good health status.”

Matthew Marsicano, Animal Care Coordinator at Zoo Miami

After months of daily care at Zoo Miami’s Sea Turtle Hospital, the two loggerheads were ready to be released.

On Tuesday, June 20th, Friends of Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park were there to lend a hand so were team members from FWC, Collier County Sheriff’s Office, Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida – all eagerly awaiting the special moment.

We want to thank Zoo Miami for their rehabilitation efforts and transporting the turtles back to the West Coast. We also want to thank all the rescuers for saving these loggerheads and the volunteers for helping with the release.

Full release video by Zoo Miami