The Great Sea Turtle Trek

Florida Fish and Wildlife
Applying metal tags to Papi's rear flippers in preparation for release.
Applying metal tags to Papi’s rear flippers in preparation for release.

46 turtles
1,234 miles

This winter’s sea turtle cold-stun season on Cape Cod was the largest to date.  A total of 393 turtles stranded, of which 242 were alive and suffering from severe hypothermia.  In a normal year, there are an average of 70 live strandings.

Sea turtles are rescued by Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and transported to the New England Aquarium for initial care and treatment.  When the Aquarium fills, they transfer animals to other facilities for on-going care.

Phoenix is ready for a second chance in the wild!
Phoenix is ready for a second chance in the wild!

Due to the huge number of strandings this year, sea turtles were transferred to facilities from Maine to Florida.  Here at the National Marine Life Center, we’re caring for eight.  (Click here to read more about our sea turtle patients.)  Many of the turtles transferred to other facilities have already recovered and been released.

Now, in what may be the largest mass transport of rehabilitated cold-stunned sea turtles ever seen in the Northeast, most of the remaining turtles – 46 in all – are being transported to warm Florida waters for release.

Inserting a PIT tag (microchip) into Papi's shoulder muscle.
Inserting a PIT tag (microchip) into Papi’s shoulder muscle.

Dubbed “The Sea Turtle Trek” by organizers from the New England Aquarium and the National Aquarium, the transport will take place this weekend. Early Saturday morning, biologists at the University of New England (UNE) in Biddeford, Maine will lift five, chestnut brown-colored, loggerhead sea turtles from their tanks and package them into dry, padded crates for transport two hours south to the New England Aquarium’s Quincy site. At the same time on Cape Cod, staff at the National Marine Life Center (NMLC) in Buzzards Bay will prepare four charcoal-colored Kemp’s ridleys (Walter, Carolyn, Phoenix, and Papi) for an hour and a half ride north to Quincy. There, those nine animals will join twenty-eight more from the Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital to begin the Sea Turtle Trek’s long drive south.

Affixing flipper tags on Carolyn.
Affixing flipper tags on Carolyn.

In Connecticut, the turtle caravan will stop briefly to off I-95 to pick up four loggerheads that will be ferried across Long Island Sound from the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation. With forty-one marine reptiles in tow, the Sea Turtle Trek will drive to the National Aquarium in Baltimore by early Saturday evening to pick up one green, one Kemp’s and one loggerhead. Then with forty-four animals, the trek will stop at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center in Virginia Beach in the late evening.

Traveling overnight with multiple drivers, the Sea Turtle Trek hopes to arrive in the Jacksonville, Florida area by late Sunday morning. There, officials from Florida Fish & Wildlife will select a release beach in the region, and forty-six endangered and threatened sea turtles will crawl down a beach to re-enter the ocean.

You can follow the Sea Turtle Trek on social media by searching #SeaTurtleTrek.

On behalf of all of the people and organizations who have helped these sea turtles along their unusual paths, we hope that they live long lives and contribute to the recovery of their threatened and endangered populations.