The loggerhead turtle was emaciated,
had been struck by a propeller
and had a 4-inch hook in her esophagus.
Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star
— and the public — to track Phoenix’s travels for up to a year.
in Phoenix’s esophagus is shown at actual size.
But Phoenix the turtle survived,
and you can follow her journey via a transmitter.
INSET BELOW: Gumbo Limbo Nature Center staff members carry Phoenix
the loggerhead turtle past the crowds that assembled to watch her release.
Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star
By Cheryl Blackerby
More than 1,000 people formed a semicircle on the beach of Spanish River Park in Boca Raton on an overcast afternoon June 12 to watch the release of Phoenix, a 15-year-old loggerhead sea turtle, back to the ocean.
On past turtle releases from Gumbo Limbo Nature Center’s turtle hospital, onlookers hoped for the best, aware they probably would never know what happened to these turtles.
But this time no one has to wonder where Phoenix is. She was fitted with a satellite transmitter attached to her shell that will allow her fans to track her ocean journey online for at least a year.
“The transmitter was the first one in many years we’ve done. It was funded by Friends of Gumbo Limbo. It’s pretty exciting,” said Ryan Butts, sea turtle rehabilitation coordinator at the center.
The big turtle with golden skin and expressive eyes had recuperated from horrific injuries that had inspired the big turnout of spectators.
Phoenix slowly moved to the water away from her Gumbo Limbo caregivers, stopping several times to look at the people to the left and right and the ocean straight ahead.
Many released sea turtles thrash in the sand in their hurry to get back to the ocean, but Phoenix took her time. “Turtles have unique personalities like people. She’s always been a very reserved turtle,” said Butts.
Amid cheers and clapping, she finally dived in the surf, disappearing into the ocean with the easy thrust of powerful flippers.
The record crowd that day, the largest in the center’s history of frequent turtle releases, was attributed to Phoenix’s heroic story and recovery.
In early February, the emaciated 90-pound turtle was found by a biologist in an intake canal at the St. Lucie Power Plant, and was taken to Gumbo Limbo.
A boat propeller had slashed away six inches of the rear of her shell. She was stabilized, received antibiotics and IV fluids, and the staff was confident she was on her way to recovery. But X-rays soon showed an even bigger problem — a 4-inch stainless steel shark hook embedded in her esophagus.
The center’s veterinarian, Dr. Maria Chadam, and Butts attempted to remove the hook with long pliers without success because it was lodged so deep. The turtle was moved to the Palm Beach Zoo, where Chadam was able to take out the hook with surgery. When the veterinarian held up the big hook, the staff cheered.
Phoenix spent four months recuperating at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center turtle hospital and made a full recovery. By June, she weighed a healthy 120 pounds.
So far this year, Gumbo Limbo has treated 15 turtles, and in late June the hospital was full.
And where is Phoenix? “She made a beeline back up to St. Lucie. She probably had found lobsters and crabs there,” said Butts.
He got a scare a few days after her release when Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission called him to say they had found an injured loggerhead turtle near St. Lucie.
“I thought, please don’t let that one have a satellite transmission on it,” he said.
It didn’t. But this new turtle surely has a story of her own.