Tossed by the violent winds and powerful waves of two Atlantic hurricanes, hundreds of tiny Sea Turtles have been rescued by Florida’s Brevard Zoo – and more wash ashore every day.
The little Loggerhead, Green, and Hawksbill Turtles would normally be living in their nursery habitat on masses of seaweed in the open ocean. But waves generated by hurricanes Matthew and Nicole pushed the Turtles, along with seaweed and tons of discarded plastic, ashore on Florida’s east coast.
The Turtles, known as “washbacks” because they’ve washed back onto the shore, are retrieved by volunteers from the Sea Turtle Preservation Society and taken to the zoo’s Sea Turtle Healing Center. The young Turtles are typically lethargic and weak upon arrival, but the zoo is committed to nursing them back to health. The zoo staff has observed that many of the turtles have swallowed tiny bits of plastic and foreign debris, which obstructs their digestive systems and contributes to their weakened state. About a dozen young Turtles have died, probably as a result of ingesting plastic, according to Elliot Zurulnik, Brevard Zoo Communications Manager.
The zoo plans to release as many of the young turtles as possible, but will only do so when an individual is eating well, actively swimming, and able to dive underwater.
Seven species of Sea Turtles are found in oceans worldwide, and all are under threat. Hawksbill Turtles are Critically Endangered, Green Turtles are Endangered, and Loggerhead Turtles are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Threats to Sea Turtles include loss of beach nesting habitat, bycatch from improper fishing operations, poaching for eggs and meat, marine debris, and climate change.
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