Loggerhead Marinelife Center technicians treat Meghan, an underweight
olive ridley turtle rescued at Lantana.
Beachgoer Patrick Griffin removes the net
that was wrapped around Meghan.
Progress Note: 1/13/2014 - Meghan has been eating on her own for the past week. Her bloodwork is improving slightly. She is getting subcutaneous fluids daily as well as her prescribed antibiotics and iron injections.
By Cheryl Blackerby
The rescue of the little olive ridley sea turtle, who made a likely 4,000-mile journey from around Brazil to Florida, was nothing short of a miracle.
She probably drifted in the Gulf Stream — all four flippers tangled in fishing net — before landing on Lantana Beach, thrashing in the surf, on Christmas Day.
She is in critical condition, but her rescuers are hopeful. She is the only documented olive ridley stranded in Palm Beach County and the first this far north, according to Loggerhead Marinelife Center.
A couple who were eating at the Dune Deck restaurant saw the turtle and pulled her to the beach. They cut the fishing net off her flippers, which was the right thing to do. Then they did the wrong thing — put her back into the water on the advice of a passerby.
But Lantana lifeguards George Klein and Randy Reed kept a lookout for her and saw her struggling in the surf. They called Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which took her to the nonprofit Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach.
Underweight and dehydrated, the turtle, named Meghan by the staff, is in grave condition.
“She has been sick for quite a while, and is underweight, anemic and has low blood sugar. Her condition is grave until we know exactly what’s going on,” said the center’s veterinarian Dr. Charles Manire.
She weighs only 64.85 pounds. Adult olive ridleys generally weigh about 100 pounds.
She has a very deep wound on her front left flipper from the net, but that is expected to heal, he said.
“The wounds are minor in comparison to the other problems. We’re in the process of getting x-rays and blood work to determine what’s wrong,” he said.
She is being treated for external wounds, given a glucose IV, antibiotics to prevent infection and iron to treat the anemia. X-rays showed no bone damage.
The staff is conducting daily glucose tests until levels are stable. She was put into a shallow pool, and if she survives, will undergo rehabilitation, which will include a deeper pool and hydrotherapy to strengthen her flippers, for about two months, said Tom Longo, the center’s communications manager.
She will not be released in Florida, but probably in South America. The details will be worked out with experts, he said. “We’re not sure where she will be released. But we can’t imagine her being released here.”
There have been only three strandings of the endangered olive ridleys in Florida: one in Marathon in 1999, one in Key Largo in 2000, and one in Sunny Isles near Miami in 2001. All three turtles died.
The center’s staff is hoping Meghan will make it. Her Welsh name, after all, means strong and mighty. And Saint Meghan is the patron saint of victims of abuse.
Florida Fish and Wildlife decides where rescued animals go, and the agency decided to take her to Loggerhead. “They determine who has the space and capability to care for the turtle. We have a surgical suite, state-of-the-art x-ray equipment, and we do in-house blood work,” said Longo.
The center treated 80 sea turtles in 2013, which is “on the high end,” said Longo. The average number of turtles treated is 60 to 80.
Meghan has a shell 26 inches in length. The olive ridley is named for its greenish color, and is closely related to the Kemp’s ridley with the primary distinction being that olive ridleys are found only in warmer waters, according to National Geographic. Olive and Kemp’s ridleys are the smallest of the sea turtles. Fishing nets have taken a large toll, frequently snagging and drowning the turtles.
Visitors to Loggerhead MarineLife Center can see Meghan in her new shallow tank. And they will be able to monitor her progress if she gets stronger and is moved to the deeper pool.
Of course, no one knows for sure where Meghan’s journey started, where she got tangled in the net, or how long she was adrift in the Gulf Stream. Experts speculate that she came from Brazil, the olive ridleys’ usual habitat in the Atlantic.
Only she knows.
But one thing is definite: Christmas Day was her lucky day, and as of Dec. 31, Meghan is getting the care she needs.
Anyone seeing a hurt sea turtle or other marine animal, should call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).