The Audubon Nature Institute works to save 30 sea turtles cold-stunned in New England

West Bank facility nurses Kemps ridley turtles back to health
Updated: Dec. 1, 2020 at 3:47 PM CST
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Gabriella Harlamert administers eye drops to a critically ill patient at the Aubuon Nature Institute’s Aquatic Center in Algiers.

The turtle, sporting the number 09 on its shell in order to track its progress, suffered an eye injury when it and 29 others there were cold-stunned recently in a sudden New England cold snap.

The endangered Kemps ridley sea turtles are getting getting special care from Audubon.

“These guys get into a cold snap and their bodies shot down,” said Harlamert, who directs The Coastal Wildlife Network.

Coordinated by Audubon Nature Institute, the CWN serves as the primary response partner for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in rehabilitating sea turtles and mammals, such as dolphins, whales, and manatees.

“Because there’s such a large intake, they get brought to other facilities across the country,” Harlamert said.

CWN is authorized to rehabilitate sea turtles by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and bottlenose dolphins by NOAA.

Since 2010, it has rehabilitated close to 300 sea turtles with injuries or illness ranging from boat strikes to cold stress related illness.

Feeding time reveals a lot about how the individuals are recovering, since a healthy appetite often signals are healthier turtle.

The more critical patients, about half a dozen, are kept individually in small tanks.

“They might be getting handled daily, which is why they’re here for easier access.”

Eventually, those that recover go back to the wild.

This time, their journey to New Orleans from New England over the Thanksgiving holiday was anything but routine.

The plane, staffed by volunteer pilots, encountered bad weather, then then a freak issue during a fuel stop.

“Before they went to take off in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a rock hit their propeller and it grounded their plane,” Harlamert said. “We were super grateful that the Tennessee Aquarium took these guys overnight.”

Because some of the turtles are more critical, Harlamert said they will probably be released into the Gulf of Mexico in stages.

“It’s our job to get them up to health and where they need to be.”

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