Coastal Star file photo
Photo provided by Melanie Bell
By Cheryl Blackerby
The little olive ridley sea turtle that washed up on the Lantana beach on Christmas Day 2013 was released back into the ocean Dec. 11 in Key West.
In critical condition with all four flippers tangled in monofilament fishing line, she spent almost a year recovering at Loggerhead Marinelife Center’s turtle hospital in Juno Beach.
Loggerhead staff drove the endangered olive ridley they named Meghan to Key West in the center’s turtle transport vehicle. She was carried out into the ocean on a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission boat with FWC officers assisting with the release, said Kathryn Rumbley, Loggerhead spokesperson.
Around noon, with calm waters under a blue sky, Meghan took off into the ocean heading south toward home, probably about 4,000 miles away near Brazil, say turtle experts.
She is the only documented olive ridley ever found in Palm Beach County and only the fourth to strand in Florida. The other three turtles died.
Meghan had probably drifted north in the Gulf Stream, trapped in the line, until she was spotted thrashing in the surf behind the Dune Deck. A couple who were eating at the restaurant saw the turtle and pulled her to the beach. They cut the fishing line off her flippers, and put her back into the water.
But Lantana lifeguards George Klein and Randy Reed kept a lookout for her and saw her struggling in the surf. They called the FWC, which took her to the nonprofit Loggerhead Marinelife Center.
Dehydrated and emaciated, she weighed only 64.85 pounds. By the time she was released, she weighed 86.50 pounds. Adult olive ridleys generally weigh about 100 pounds.
It has been a long recovery for the weary and sick little turtle. She had a very deep wound on her front left flipper from the fishing line, and was severely underweight, anemic, and had low blood sugar. She was given a glucose IV, antibiotics to prevent infection, and iron to treat anemia.
A couple of weeks after she arrived at the turtle hospital, she took a turn for the worse and stopped eating. The center’s veterinarian Dr. Charles Manire called her condition grave, and said the outlook wasn’t good for a turtle that had been sick for quite a while.
But she gradually improved after being tube-fed gruel, a slurry of fish and vitamins, twice a day. Five liters of air were extracted from her intestines, which made her list to one side in the water.
The staff conducted daily glucose tests until levels were stable. She was put into a shallow pool, and then underwent rehabilitation, which included a deeper pool and hydrotherapy to strengthen her flippers.
She wasn’t fitted with satellite tracking tags, so we may never know if Meghan finds her way safely back to South America.
“We actually purchased the transmitter,” said Rumbley, “but a special permit was required which would take another year to obtain.
“Of course, our hope is that she will find her way back.”
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).