20 Wayward Hatchlings Finally Get Home

3loggerheads.jpgThree wayward threatened loggerhead sea turtle at Columbus zoo and aquarium. Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

First, they are yanked off their nesting beach either as eggs or hatchlings. Then they are hustled off to Ohio (violating more than a couple of federal, state and county laws and ordinances). In Ohio, around 20 hatchlings are given to the Columbus zoo when the perpetrator realizes he or she is in over his or her head. Columbus Zoo tries to find a way to get them back home. Airlines balk letting them in the cabin.

chopper.jpgCoast Guard chopper scans for suitable habitat Aug 29, 2001 near West Palm Beach, FL. Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Ratchet up public interest when dedicated, and somewhat exasperated, Florida sea turtle biologist Meghan Conti announces the plight of the stranded turtles at a news conference.


flotila.jpgThree of the four boat convoy, with air support on a seek and deploy mission. Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Public contributions of aircraft rides ensues. Number one pick, Executive Jet hosts a fast sleet jet to whisk the 20 threatened loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings to West Palm beach airport on August 28, 2001, where they are greeted by throngs of media & more than a few well wishers who hear of the event from a local radio promotion.

The frequent flier sea turtles bask in the limelight at the rehab facility -- Marinelife Center at Juno beach – grabbing a quick bite and hanging out at their own private pool overnight to regain their strength for the next phase: A boat ride to freedom.

The search for the best habitat proves difficult. A Coast Guard helicopter finds a patch, but it’s turns out to be too close -- about five miles out -- the young hatchlings might be swept back to the beach with the tides.

The flotilla of four boats fan out and keep looking searching a 10-20 square mile area.

release1.jpgMehgan Conti (white t-shirt) FFWCC, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Special Agent Eddie McKissick carefully release loggerhead hatchlings into the Atlantic, Aug. 29, 2001. Doug Warmolt, (blue hat) Columbus Zoo and Aquarium & Special Agent Dan LeClair (taking photo on right) Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The press chafes at being close to deadline that afternoon. The pressure mounts. The wave size increases.

Great news! A helicopter from Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission finds another patch of floating sarrgassum seaweed about 8 miles east of Jupiter beach.

The 20 hatchlings finally hit the Atlantic and will hopefully learn how to survive in the wild after having their life cycle interrupted.

They are joined by 118 other wayward loggerhead hatchlings that had been recovering at Marinelife Center at Juno Beach acquired from a variety of instances, from nest examinations, or being found disoriented on a beach and given to the experts at the center.

A lot of effort for 20 hatchlings? You bet, but what a great chance to show the world how important it is to just leave the critters alone, or call a professional if you find an injured wild animal or an uncovered egg. 

Next step? The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continues to investigate the case as a possible violation of the Endangered Species Act and Lacy Act.

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Photo by Tom MacKenzie, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Photo by Tom MacKenzie, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Photo by Tom MacKenzie, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Photo by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Photo by Tom MacKenzie, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service