On Feb. 28, Coral World Ocean Park received a call that a sea turtle had stranded at the bottom of the Bolongo Bay cliffs. Erica Palmer, Coral World veterinary technician and Ryan Firment, an aquarist at the park, quickly responded. When they clambered down the cliff, they found a sub-adult, green sea turtle lying on its back.
Palmer said, “The wound to its right front flipper suggested an attack by a predator. We transferred the turtle to Coral World where our dedicated staff has been providing supportive care, wound treatment, and nutritional therapy, which allowed the turtle to stabilize and regain strength prior to transfer to an equipped surgical facility.”
After it was determined that Khepri was stable enough to travel, American Airlines assisted in his transfer from St. Thomas to Miami on March 26, where he would receive treatment for his severely injured flipper at the Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys.
When Mark Nelson, general manager for American Airlines in the U.S. Virgin Islands, heard about the mission, he immediately raised his hand and offered to bring the turtle himself. “I am a diver and value sea life,” he said when heard about the sick turtle. “Our flippers are crossed for Khepri to get better and be able to return to the water soon.”
This is the second time Nelson has volunteered to transport an injured sea turtle for treatment from the U.S.V.I. Mark and the turtle landed yesterday in Miami, and the turtle was taken to The Turtle Hospital where it continues to recover.
Palmer said, “If the turtle is deemed releasable, it will be flown back to St. Thomas and will be released in the same area where it was rescued. If the turtle is deemed non-releasable, it will stay in the care of the Turtle Hospital in Florida.”
All sea turtles are designated as either threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973. Violations can result in up to one year in prison, up to a $100,000 fine, and the confiscation of any equipment used during the criminal act.
St. Thomas Animal Research (STAR) is a non-profit organization whose mission is “To promote sea turtle-friendly practices and a conservation ethic on land and at sea in the US Virgin Islands, and respond to incidents of injured, disoriented or imperiled sea turtles through rescue and rehabilitation”.
This collaboration of NGO’s, territorial and federal agencies, veterinarians and community volunteers have joined together to provide education and assistance for stranded sea turtles in the territory. Palmer said, “STAR relies on many community volunteers, local veterinarians, and other donated resources like those offered by Coral World, but the most important participant in STAR is the individual. Please report any entrapped, disoriented, sick, injured or dead sea turtle by calling the rescue hotline at 690-0474.
Coral World is the only approved Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Facility in the Virgin Islands and has been conducting and funding turtle rehabilitation since it reopened in 1997 as part of its mission to educate and inspire appreciation for the Caribbean marine environment as well as entertain. A portion of proceeds from every turtle encounter activity is allocated to turtle rescue and rehabilitation efforts.