The New York Marine Rescue Center, a nonprofit rehabilitation organization in Long Island, New York, has received a record amount of sick sea turtles, and is the only rehab center for mammals in the NY area. The Green and Kemp’s ridley turtles are the majority two the rehab center treats – the Green are a threatened species found globally, and the Kemp’s ridley is an endangered species on the verge of extinction.
Many nesting locations in Mexico for the Kemp’s ridley have been destroyed and population numbers have plummeted. Now, covered by the Endangered Species Act, numbers may see an increase. Climate change has also been a huge factor in the deterioration of the two’s population status. Warming waters and changes in currents cause their regular territories to expand, challenging their migration patterns and distances. Being cold blooded, the quick changes in water temperatures can cause them to go into a state of hypothermic shock, possibly leaving them stranded, or washed up on beaches. Over this past winter season, around 90 turtles were found in this state, and 45 are alive and well at the rehab center.
When brought into the rehab center, a lot of detailed care goes into building back their livelihood. First, the turtle's body temperature needs to be brought back up to the normal of 75 degrees, their shells are inspected and disinfected, blood work is completed, and a routine weighing is in order to make sure they are gaining steady weight. When the weather is warm enough for their initial introductive survival and they have fully recovered, they are taken to the beaches in Hampton Bay – about 80% are ready to be released by the upcoming season.
Due to this newly found phenomenon, alot is still unknown about these turtles due to data collection from the stranded and not the thriving. The NYMRC Director, Maxine Montello, and her team plan to change that. Their plan is to record and analyze behavioral patterns from video clips taken from the healthy sea turtles when released.
On a lighter note – a necessary and rewarding daily procedure for the turtles is feeding time! Eating during rehabilitation is crucial for stabilizing health, in fact turtles are supposed to eat about 2% of their body weight a day. The turtles are held in different temperature-controlled tanks depending on health level and age, each turtle also gets an assigned number to keep track of each individual's progress. During feeding time, volunteers go inside the tanks and dangle pieces of raw fish or squid to grab attention. This process can be time consuming and tedious, but much needed and appreciated by the turtles. Some turtles have been known to mimic bullying tendencies seen in the wild when feeding occurs. Volunteers have to use nets to keep these token turtles out of the way of the others, or pushing tankmates and stealing food will happen – just like siblings at dinner time.