CROW releases sea turtle treated for red tide poisoning
One patient treated by the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife got to return home today.
At about 9 a.m., CROW staff released an adult female Kemp’s ridley sea turtle back into the ocean from the Lighthouse Beach on Sanibel. The turtle was admitted on March 27 after being found floating on its side near the Sanibel Marina. It was treated for brevitoxicosis, also called red tide poisoning.
“Her release went really well this morning,” Dr. Robin Bast, one of CROW’s interns, said.
“Sometimes it takes them a little bit longer to get oriented,” she said of wildlife during a release. “But she made a beeline straight for the waves and seemed to know exactly where she was headed.”
Brevitoxicosis can affect a turtle’s nervous system, as well as its gastrointestinal tract.
“She could not hold her head up or really move at all,” Bast said of the turtle’s initial condition.
Blood work confirmed that it was suffering from red tide poisoning.
“They become very weak and debilitated,” she said of the associated symptoms.
Bast explained that turtles with brevitoxicosis oftentimes cannot fend for themselves or hunt for food. Sometimes, they are too weak to surface for air or to dive, leaving them vulnerable to boat strikes.
“What we do is supportive care to get them through it – basically, nutritional support,” she said. “A lot of it is just supporting them as their body processes the toxins.”
In the case of the Kemp’s sea turtle, which is a critically endangered species, it was given IV fluid therapy and supportive nutrition. Bast noted that the turtle was initially unable to feed itself. Staff also used a new treatment for red tide poisoning that it is researching in partnership with another group.
“She received the treatment and did really well,” she said, not permitted to discuss specifics.
Bast reported that sea turtles suffering from brevitoxicosis typically take a minimum of at least one month for rehabilitation, with most undergoing a few months of treatment before being released.
“She had a really quick turnaround time,” she said.
The Kemp’s sea turtle is not the only case CROW has handled recently.
“We’ve seen several sea turtles in the past few weeks with red tide poisoning,” Bast said.
On Feb. 27, a subadult female loggerhead turtle was found off of the Sanibel Causeway, while a subadult-juvenile female loggerhead was rescued on March 18 in the Bowman’s Beach area.
Bast reported that the March patient has since died.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t make it,” she said.
“I suspect she just wasn’t able to process the toxins as well as the others,” Bast added, confirming that the death is tied to brevitoxicosis. “Sometimes, they’re just too far gone and we can’t save them.”
The February patient, however, is on the road to a full recovery.
“We still have her. She’s doing really really well,” she said.
Staff tagged it today and if its blood work comes back good next week, a release date will be set.
“She has made great improvements,” Bast said.
The turtle was diagnosed with red tide poisoning, as well as loggerhead anemia syndrome. It was put on an aggressive fluid plan, along with injections of iron and B12 to raise its red blood cell count.
“In addition to the red tide, we’re also dealing with the anemia,” she said.
CROW is also handling two other sea turtle cases.
On April 5, a subadult female loggerhead was found floating off of Cayo Costa.
“She’s got a skull fracture,” Bast said, explaining that it appears to be an old wound from a boat propeller. “She also has a wound on her front flipper from a propeller.”
Debilitated and extremely thin when it was admitted, it also could not hold its head up.
The turtle is receiving IV therapy and nutrition before a CT scan and any diagnosis is attempted.
“And that will eventually have to be addressed,” Bast said of the front flipper. “But she’s not stable enough yet.”
Since February, CROW has also been treating and monitoring a juvenile green sea turtle that was discovered floating at Stump Pass near Manasota Key; it is still too small to determine the sex.
The turtle has an old boat strike injury at the rear of its shell, along with a severed spine.
“She’s never going to be able to be released into the wild again,” she said.
Bast explained that the turtle has minimal use of its back flippers. However, the bigger concern is its decreased GI mobility, which is believed to be the result of nerve damage from the spinal fracture.
“She’s not passing stool on her own,” she said.
According to Bast, a normal GI transit time for reptiles like turtles is about 14 days.
“The concern is that it’s been several weeks at this point and she hasn’t passed any stools,” she said.
Staff are testing several medications on the turtle in an attempt to stimulate its GI movement.
Additional diagnosis-type procedures are scheduled for this week.
“Her prognosis is still pretty guarded at this point,” Bast said.
In the meantime, the turtle does not appear to be suffering. It is alert and wants to eat.
Because the rehabilitation time for sea turtles in so lengthy, CROW sometimes is in need of food donations for its patients, like crabs. For more information on donating, contact 239-472-3644.
To learn more about CROW, visit www.CROWClinic.org.
CROW is at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel.