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Area boaters urged to use ‘turtle spotters,’ obey no-wake zones

By Staff | Apr 13, 2016

To the editor:

A knock at my front door last Thursday afternoon by my Cape Coral neighbor and Minnesota resident Laura Bruestle changed the way I think about the Caloosahatchee River, Cape Coral’s Redfish Cove and the endangered sea turtles in S.W. Florida waters.

Laura had spotted a young sea turtle floating belly up in the waves of Redfish Cove behind her house. The day had been windy, the waves were pushing the turtle’s body toward Laura’s seawall. I called my sister Joanne Semmer, president of Ostego Bay Marine Science Center on San Carlos Island. She said that I should call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They would send someone to collect the turtle. Sea turtles in Florida are endangered, it is important to document the sea turtle’s death. By now our efforts had become a family affair. Laura’s daughter-in-law Chrystal Bruestle and her daughters, Robi, age 4, and Dani, age 7, wanted to help. Laura’s sister-in-law Jodi also volunteered as did her daughters Julia, age 17, and Sophia, age 13. I managed to grab the turtle’s left flipper as it crashed into the wall. I was amazed how muscular the flipper was. My admiration for one of nature’s magnificent creatures was growing. The weight of the turtle made it impossible for me to pull the turtle out of the water. Laura had offered to use the pool net but it was too small. She also brought a rake and managed to hold the turtle against the wall while her sister-in-law Jodi leaned over the seawall and grabbed the turtles’ right flipper.

The weight of the turtle was still more than expected. Concerned that both Jodi and I might be pulled into the water, family members grabbed hold of our bodies and held us firm as the turtle was pulled over the seawall, and on to the concrete embankment. At first we hoped the young turtle with the beautiful markings on his front flippers and on his head was still alive but despite the bright, clear eyes that were beginning to fade, a deep cut across the turtle’s shell may have ended its life. Crystal’s husband Jason served as photographer. The sea turtle was a beautiful specimen, 2-1/2 feet in length with a dark green shell. By now Laura’s husband George had joined the family. An avid big game fisherman, George also agreed, the deep cut across the turtle’s shell, the missing four-inch square block of tissue, cut clean as if made by a scalpel was indeed the work of a boat’s propeller. Dark bruises above the left front flipper, on the shoulder and the neck indicated blunt force. Bleeding from the mouth, we thought the turtle had also sustained internal injuries. George and I who are both boaters, had suspected the turtle was probably hit by a boat head on, probably knocked unconscious, not able to dive deeper, away from the engine’s propeller. Probably an accident. The choppy seas would make it difficult for the boat’s driver to see the turtle even if there was a spotter on board looking for sea turtles.

On Friday a biologist from Florida Fish and Wildlife called. The Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation would be helping them out. SCCF has the longest running sea turtle program in the state since the 1950’s.

Crystal and her two daughters were looking at photographs of sea turtles in a book. Crystal noticed the markings on a green turtle’s flippers and head were similar to the turtle that we rescued. Her children agreed.

Kelly Sloan the coordinator for the sea turtle program at SCCF called. She was sending out Chelsea Petrik, a biologist intern to pick up the turtle. Chelsea had been with the program three days and this was her first pick up. After meeting Chelsea and noticing how well she worked with the children, we were quite impressed. Chelsea confirmed the turtle was a juvenile green turtle, a female. Robi and Dani named the sea turtle Summer. Kelly Sloan had told me juvenile Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles and green sea turtles were showing up in the area of Redfish Cove and the surrounding waters in greater numbers. In fact, last year SCCF had recorded a record number of green turtle nests, 30 on the Sanibel and Captiva Island beaches. According to Sloan several Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle nests were also documented on the same islands last year. According to Wikipedia, the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are the rarest species of sea turtles and are critically endangered. We were all thrilled to find out the shallow water grass beds of Redfish Cove and the surrounding waters have become a habitat for endangered juvenile sea turtles. It had been a sad journey but maybe Summer did not die in vain. Kelly Sloan asked me to remind readers when boating to have a designated spotter on board for sea turtles and please obey the no wake zones.

Carlene Brennan

Cape Coral