12390429293?profile=RESIZE_710xNamed Lefty because his other front flipper is missing, a rare Kemp’s ridley sea turtle has moved into the Mangrove Aquarium at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. Photo provided

By Steve Plunkett

After an 11-month wait, the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center has a second “resident” sea turtle to amaze and educate its visitors.

Meet Lefty, a rare Kemp’s ridley sea turtle that arrived on Feb. 22 from Orlando’s SeaWorld to become the latest occupant of the Boca Raton nature center’s Mangrove Aquarium.

“He is missing most of his right front flipper and about half of his left front flipper,” said David Anderson, the city’s sea turtle conservation coordinator. “He has trouble swimming and surfacing in deep water and is non-releasable.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission issues permits to qualified organizations and individuals to keep threatened or endangered sea turtles in captivity for educational, research and rehabilitative purposes. A non-releasable turtle could not survive on its own in the ocean.

Anderson said there is no record of how Lefty’s injuries occurred.

“Lefty’s early history, including where he originated from, how and exactly when he arrived at a facility in Florida is unknown,” he said. “This turtle resided at Miami Seaquarium from some point prior to January 1994 through May 2023.”

Since then, the turtle was temporarily housed at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach and at SeaWorld while the FWC searched for a permanent home.

Anderson said the state agency made Lefty’s situation a priority because he had been living in a rehabilitation setting for eight months and desperately needed something like Gumbo Limbo’s Mangrove Aquarium to thrive in. The mangrove exhibit is “a perfect depth and length for him to comfortably swim and surface,” he said.

“After hearing about Lefty we agreed to take him, and we are glad we did,” Anderson said. “He has settled in nicely and our staff is providing excellent care.”
Kemp’s ridley turtles are the smallest species of sea turtles in the world and one of the rarest, he said. They are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Like other turtle species, the major threats they face are loss of habitat, predation of eggs and hatchlings, vessel strikes, pollution and climate change.

Anderson also said the FWC told him that Lefty is the only permanent resident Kemp’s ridley on the east coast of Florida.

The Gumbo Limbo Nature Center had resident turtles Morgan and Cane for years until last March when the FWC ordered that the two reptiles be relocated after the city terminated its sea turtle rehabilitation coordinator and assistant coordinator.

Morgan returned to Gumbo Limbo in January.

The firings were part of a transfer of the care of the turtles from the city to the nonprofit Coastal Stewards. The group, formerly known as the Friends of Gumbo Limbo, has since hired a veterinarian and a rescue-rehabilitation coordinator and applied for a permit to resume giving medical care to sea turtles. The FWC is still reviewing the group’s application.

Morgan first came to Gumbo Limbo after being rescued in 2014. A sub-adult green turtle, she was hit by a boat and her injuries caused her to be partially paralyzed in her rear flippers.

Morgan was transferred to the Marinelife Center; Cane was taken to a facility in Stuart. The Coastal Stewards and Gumbo Limbo initially said the turtles were taking a vacation and would return soon.

“It is my understanding that Cane is doing well and has a great habitat at Florida Oceanographic Society,” said Anderson, who did not know what the FWC plans for Cane. “It is ultimately FWC’s decision to determine where particular individual turtles will be housed.”

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