Saturday, August 15, 2009

Caring Hands for Kiawah

"We've got a stranded loggerhead," came the word from Kiawah Island on March 28, 2009.

Rushing to the scene were Joe Pezzullo and other members of the Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol. The juvenile loggerhead first appeared dead, but then it moved. Quickly, the Sea Turtle Hospital of the South Carolina Aquarium was contacted. The sea turtle was moved to the hospital and was now in the caring hands of Kelly Thorvalson, Sea Turtle Rescue Program Coordinator, and the other staff and volunteers.

Named for the location at which it was found, "Kiawah", the young loggerhead was diagnosed with hypoglycemia and dehydration. The barnacles on its body indicated the prolonged state of lethargy the turtle had experienced.

Pezzullo said, "We got it at the right time." Pezzullo has been part of the Kiawah Island Turtle Patrol since 1996 and has been approved by the state for strandings since 1998. "Most stranded sea turtles don't make it," he said.

On July 26, the day of "Kiawah's" release back to the ocean from the beach on Kiawah Island, there were 119 loggerhead nests on the island. Seven nests had already hatched and Pezzullo was looking forward to the peak time of nests hatching.

"A very small number of hatchlings make it," Pezzullo commented. Pezzullo recalled several years ago someone from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources told him that the low survival was nature's way. Otherwise, the ocean would be full of nothing but sea turtles with no resources available for other species.

"Kiawah" had gained sufficient weight for the release July 26. Weighing in at about 100 pounds, "Kiawah" and the two Kemp's ridley sea turtles release was witnessed by over 500 spectators.

"Kiawah" was escorted home by interns Courtney Boggs and Sarah Dale. After carrying the turtle for several feet and putting it gently down on the sand, the loggerhead would raise its head, look around, sniff, and then start the journey to the sea. Dale, with a smile on her face, commented the loggerhead was heavy during the walk. Both Boggs and Dale agreed it was great to have the honor of escorting it home.

As each turtle was released, the crowd cheered and clapped.

Standing proudly at the side of "Kiawah" as the aquarium staff prepared for the release, Pezzullo said, "It gives me great satisfaction."

Indeed.

Sandy Toes
Goes to Kiawah

This is the second in a series written by Sandy Toes as she spent time this summer learning more about sea turtles. Look for more articles and videos soon.

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