A Talk on the Wild Side.
Ken Warren from our South Florida Ecological Services Office tells us about some important (and heavy) work.
|Rescuers work to safely remove a leatherback sea turtle trapped in waters near a South Florida power plant. Photo by Jeff Howe/USFWS|
Eight hundred pounds of anything is a heavy lift--even for a lot of people with a big crane and adrenaline pumping because they were saving a massive leatherback sea turtle trapped in waters near a South Florida power plant.
|It took quite a bit of teamwork to manually lift the 800-pound turtle out of the water. Photo by Jeff Howe/USFWS|
On February 19, a leatherback sea turtle was entrained at the St. Lucie Florida Power and Light plant. Due to its size, InWater Research Group (IRG) a nonprofit group responsible for capturing and tagging sea turtles coming into the power plant, was summoned. Steve Traxler, an IRG board member, was called to help capture, tag, transport and release the turtle ASAP.
|The sea turtle was walked down a hill toward the beach where it was released. Photo by Jeff Howe/USFWS
Steve works for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as the Peninsular Florida Landscape Conservation Cooperative’s Science Coordinator. He recruited and organized a number of folks he works with at the South Florida Ecological Services Office--Jeff Howe, Mary Peterson, John Wrublik, Shana DiPalma, Layne Bolen and Dave Bender, as well as folks from co-located offices (John Galvez of the Peninsular Florida Fisheries Office), Kathy Burchett (Refuge Supervisor Area II) and Tim Towles (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission). They all either participated in the rescue/relocation or just took the opportunity to see one of these magnificent reptiles up close.
The water was chilly, but the rescue team’s spirits were warm and high as the capture went smoothly. The turtle had not been previously tagged, and both flipper tags and passive integrated transponder tags were inserted. The turtle was safely removed from the water, transported to the beach and released back into the ocean where it swam away. “Participating in wildlife rescues is a rewarding experience. This was a great opportunity for all of us to get away from our desks and do something directly for one of the many species we work to protect as Service employees in South Florida,”Steve says.
The total capture and release time was about an hour.
|Waves from the Atlantic Ocean greeted the massive turtle as it made its way back into the sea. Photo by Jeff Howe/USFWS|
The leatherback is listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. It’s the largest, deepest diving, and most migratory and wide ranging of all sea turtles. An adult leatherback can reach 4 to 8 feet in length and 500 to 2000 pounds in weight. Its shell is composed of a mosaic of small bones covered by firm, rubbery skin with seven longitudinal ridges or keels--hence the name“leatherback.”
IRG has captured, tagged and released thousands of sea turtles (mostly loggerhead and green) at the power plant, as well as for demographic projects around Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. IRG collaborates with numerous agencies and universities throughout the U.S. and other countries.