Loggerhead sea turtle treated for red tide poisoning, anemia released
After nearly two months of treatment, a female loggerhead sea turtle returned to the ocean.
Staff from the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife gathered today on the beach off the Sanibel Lighthouse to release their patient. The subadult turtle was found floating off the Sanibel Causeway on Feb. 27 and diagnosed with loggerhead anemia syndrome and brevitoxicosis, or red tide poisoning.
“She was severely severely anemic,” CROW Hospital Director Dr. Heather Barron said.
She added that the turtle had high levels of brevetoxins from the red tide.
“It’s definitely always a concern,” Barron said of brevitoxicosis.
Brevitoxicosis can affect a turtle’s nervous system, as well as its gastrointestinal tract, according to CROW staffers. Turtles with red tide poisoning oftentimes cannot fend for themselves or hunt for food. Sometimes, they are too weak to surface for air or even dive, leaving them vulnerable to boat strikes.
The loggerhead turtle was treated for both ailments, which included iron shots and oral supplements, along with intravenous nutrition because she could not eat on her own when she was first admitted.
“A lot of supportive care,” she said. “She was extremely thin.”
The turtle weighed about 132 pounds, as compared to a healthy 172 pounds at her release.
Along with gaining back the weight, the turtle’s blood work had returned to normal.
Barron noted that sea turtle nesting season has begun; it runs April through October.
“We’re keen to getting her back out there,” she said.
Like other patients treated by CROW, the turtle was tagged.
“If she does come back in, then we know she’s been with us before,” Barron said, noting that it also helps with monitoring the species. “It allows us to keep track of the sea turtles in this area.”
On April 10, CROW released an adult female Kemp’s ridley sea turtle near the same spot. Admitted on March 27 after being found floating at the Sanibel Marina, it was also treated for red tide poisoning.
In the case of the Kemp’s sea turtle, which is a critically endangered species, it was given IV fluid therapy and supportive nutrition. Like the loggerhead, she was unable to feed herself at first. Staff also used a new treatment for red tide poisoning that it is researching in partnership with another group.
CROW reported last week that a subadult-juvenile female loggerhead, rescued on March 18 in the Bowman’s Beach area, had recently died. It also had been diagnosed with red tide poisoning.
One turtle remains in CROW’s care, after another had to be put down on April 16.
Since February, CROW had been treating and monitoring a juvenile green sea turtle, which was discovered floating at Stump Pass near Manasota Key. It had an old boat strike injury at the rear of its shell, along with a severed spine. With severe nerve damage, it had little use of its back flippers.
The biggest concern, however, was its decreased GI mobility due to the nerve damage.
Barron explained that the turtle was unable to expel waste from its body.
“Its gastrointestinal tract wasn’t working properly,” she said.
Once all options were exhausted, including trying medications for its GI tract, it was euthanized.
Fortunately, CROW’s remaining patient is on the mend.
On April 5, a subadult female loggerhead was found floating off of Cayo Costa. The turtle had a head wound with a skull fracture and a wound to one of her front flippers, likely from a boat propeller.
“She’s doing great,” Barron said today. “She’s eating like a pig.”
The turtle’s blood work came back normal, so no red tide poisoning was present.
Barron estimated that its injuries were probably three weeks old.
“She had severe trauma to her head and one of her flippers,” she said, adding that the turtle had likely been debilitated and floating since the boat strike happened. “She’s literally a swimming skeleton.”
Weighing about 66 pounds upon being admitted, the turtle has received IV therapy and supportive nutrition to help stabilize her and encourage weight gain. An ideal number is about 110 pounds.
Barron noted that once the turtle reaches a healthy weight, it can be released.
Staff is using a topical treatment for its flipper, which may require minimal surgery.
“We’ll have to see how she does,” she said.
The head injury is not a concern.
Barron explained that turtles have two layers of bone and the injury only affected the first layer.
CROW recently received an $18,000 grant through the Sea Turtle Grants Program, which is funded by the sales of Florida’s sea turtle license plate. It will pay for a new turtle tank and a filtration system.
Currently, CROW has three tanks for its patients.
To learn more about CROW, visit www.CROWClinic.org.
CROW is at 3883 Sanibel Captiva Road, Sanibel.