Sunday, February 13, 2011

Where Do Sea Turtles Go in Winter?

Earlier this week, we stopped at Jekyll Island, famous for the mansions of millionaires and for bike trails that wend atmospherically beneath stately live oaks dripping enough Spanish moss to stuff a million mattresses. Besides checking out eco-attractions like the Shell Recycling Station and the Zero-Emissions Electric Cars, we also enjoyed a visit to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.

A patient in the rehab center has a bizarre illness that
makes him float TOO MUCH. Treatment includes
attaching diver's weights to the shell so he can submerge
The place has a competent little exhibit hall where you can learn about the five different species of sea turtles you might see in this region by pressing buttons, watching films, lifting flaps, touching specimens.  In one tank, a young loggerhead turtle the size of the proverbial dinner plate zoomed about, giving the lie to the stereotype that turtles are slow-moving. With his giraffe-print, bright brown-and-white head and gleaming white belly, he looked as fresh and pretty as a child's plush toy.

The main work of the center is as a kind of turtle hospital, to care for sea turtles that are sick or injured. Most sea turtle populations can't really afford to lose a lot of individuals; six species are protected by the Endangered Species Act, three species are listed as critically endangered in the IUCN Red List, and all sea turtles are included in Appendix I of CITES.

It ain't easy being a turtle.  They get tangled in fishing line. Crushed by dredges. They mistake floating plastic bags for jellyfish and die with a belly trashed by trash.  People and all kinds of animals go after the eggs, which incubate on warm sand beaches.  Electric lights in shoreline developments confuse baby turtles, who orient by moonlight to crawl from their nests down to the sea.

A large team of volunteers and interns helps the staff care for turtles.
The rehab center is a large, bright room full of wading-pool sized tanks full of patients with heart-breaking problems: flippers and shells slashed by boat propellers, or by sharks; eyes obscured by wart-like growths.

Some turtles looked healthy; they were brought to the center by people who found them found stunned and unable to move, in cold waters  outside their usual winter range. The center would give them a home till spring.

Cap says, if he were a sea turtle, he would definitely feign cold shock.  He could avoid all those ocean dangers and spend the winter in a hot tub, being hand-fed by cute girl volunteers.

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