Mote Marine Lab releases Kemp’s ridley at Tarpon Bay
Southwest Florida’s waters that were much too cold to tolerate during the winter are far warmer and welcoming at present to swimmers of several species.
Case-in-point: a juvenile Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii), one member of a critically endangered species of sea turtles, had been saved from unseasonably chilly waters in early January, with the help of staff members and volunteers from Sanibel’s own Tarpon Bay Explorers and Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife (CROW), along with sea turtle experts at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla.
Last week, that same Kemp’s ridley returned to the island again, this time being released back into the warm bay waters behind the Explorer’s concession facility, part of the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
"When the turtle was rescued in January, those waters were much colder as a result of the record low temperatures much of Florida experienced this winter," said Tarpon Bay Explorers nature guide Stephanie Ray, following the July 26 release.
According to Ray, back on Jan. 7, the Explorers pulled the lethargic turtle from the frigid bay waters and brought it to CROW. The turtle was then transferred to the Mote Marine Lab on Jan. 17 to complete its rehabilitation in their state-of-the-art Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital.
Following more than six months of care by the caring and compassionate staff at Mote, the sea turtle made the 100-mile-plus journey back to Sanibel.
Andrea Bowman, Biologist and Senior Animal Care Specialist at Mote, gently placed the Kemp’s ridley in the water at Tarpon Bay as the Explorers’ staff and several guests at the facility looked on.
"I was just coming back with a fishing charter when I saw they were about the release the sea turtle," said Brie Coffman, a boat captain and nature guide with Tarpon Bay Explorers. "As soon as she put it into the water, it really took off. It looked like it was ready to go back to the wild and its natural habitat."
"The turtle appeared excited to be home as it raced back into the water," Ray added. "It was a happy ending to the cold-stunning event that affected over 4,500 sea turtles throughout the state of Florida."
A total of 13 turtles have been rescued on Sanibel with the help of Tarpon Bay Explorers, CROW and the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, which has a Sea Turtle Research & Monitoring Program in place to assist the species. The program operates under a permit from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.