ESSEX COUNTY, NJ — Although more than 700 sea turtles have been stranded this winter in the Northeast region of the United States, hundreds of which did not survive, 13 sea turtles are currently recuperating from the cold at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo’s Sea Turtle Recovery, New Jersey’s only long-term care hospital.
According to Sea Turtle Recovery, Inc., this winter has been brutal for rehabilitation hospitals trying to make room for critically ill and injured sea turtles that failed to migrate before water temperatures became too cold.
In collaboration with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and New England Aquarium’s overcrowded facility in Massachusetts, the two full-time staff members of Sea Turtle Recovery drove nine hours round-trip to bring back a Loggerhead sea turtle and seven Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles that needed care. With five sea turtles already in house, the West Orange-based facility now has 13 patients.
“This is why Sea Turtle Recovery started our hospital,” said co-executive officer William Deerr. “All species of sea turtles are either threatened or endangered, and each life matters. When one state or region needs help, we all join together as a family to help. We may all be nonprofits and independent, but when all is said and done, we are a family of sea turtle rehabilitators.”
Having only been open for two years, Sea Turtle Recovery remains one of the youngest in this “family of sea turtle rehabilitators”—but has already rehabilitated and released 27 sea turtles back into the wild. Those at Sea Turtle Recovery currently have high hopes for the 13 turtles recovering inside their West Orange facility.
When announcing the Sea Turtle Recovery project in 2016, Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr. said the new facility would enable Turtle Back to enhance its mission of promoting conservation and preservation by creating a sanctuary to nurture and assist "the zoo’s namesake animals."
Two years later, DiVincenzo said it is “an overwhelming feeling to see the sea turtles gaining strength and fighting to recover.”
“From lung infections to propeller strike injuries, we have to administer different care to each patient, but in the end, we will help them heal,” said Deerr. “They don’t give up and we don’t give up on them.”
Sea Turtle Recovery, a nonprofit organization housed within the Turtle Back Zoo, is open during daylight hours so that the public can catch a glimpse of the hospital and its patients. However, to keep the sea turtles on a normal day/night schedule for release back into the wild, lights are out by 6:30 p.m.
To learn more about the Sea Turtle Recovery and its efforts, as well as how to donate to the sea turtles’ care, visit www.seaturtlerecovery.org. Sea Turtle Recovery also is on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.