WEST ORANGE, NJ -- Last November, frigid water conditions rapidly moving off of New Jersey’s coast brought the largest number of Green Sea Turtles ever recorded onto our shores. Rescuers scrambled to respond to calls to help various species of sea turtles up and down the coast. All of these threatened and endangered sea turtles were in critical condition, and not all of them would survive.  However, 11 tough sea turtles were brought to the nonprofit Sea Turtle Recovery (STR) located inside the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo and are making a full recovery thanks to the caring staff.

Sea Turtles do not stay year-round in New Jersey and should migrate to warmer waters by the end of October. However, due to an abnormally warm fall, some sea turtles, including Green Sea Turtles, failed to migrate and became cold stunned. The sea turtles’ organ systems began to shut down due to the extremely cold temperatures, and the turtles began to wash ashore severely ill or debilitated.  

The two full-time staff members at Sea Turtle Recovery began taking in sea turtles on Nov. 13. Some of the turtles were brought to the hospital and immediately given life-saving treatments to increase their heart rate and improve breathing, and all of them were treated for symptoms similar to hypothermia in humans.

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“I would meet up with rescuers or go to the shore to pick up and stabilize one sea turtle only to quickly leave STR again to save a newly discovered one. The sea turtles just continued washing up, and all of them needed our immediate help to survive,” said Brandi Biehl, Co-Executive Officer of Sea Turtle Recovery.

All  the sea turtles received round-the-clock care for several weeks until normal body temperatures were reached. But their fight wasn’t over because all the sea turtles that were stranded cold stunned in New Jersey are now battling pneumonia or other illness and injury. Sea Turtle Recovery expects that many of these sea turtles will not be healthy/releasable until late March or early spring.  

“The community has really assisted with saving these endangered and threatened sea turtles, and we hope they will continue to follow the sea turtles progress until released!” Brandi said.

All eleven sea turtles are currently on medications and treatment regimens. They share the rehabilitation hospital with a 165-pound Loggerhead that is also in STR’s care due to blunt force trauma related injuries. The turtles can be viewed inside the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, and donations can be made specifically to sea turtles online.

“I applaud the efforts of Sea Turtle Recovery to help cold stranded, sick and injured sea turtles. Hosting their recovery facility at Essex County Turtle Back Zoo raises public awareness about the dangers all wild animals face and the importance of conservation,” Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr., said.

A fund-raising luncheon to benefit the care of these 11 turtles will be held on March 22nd at the Wilshire Grand in West Orange. For more information, visit seaturtlerecovery.org. 

More information about the Turtle Back Zoo including hours and directions is available at www.turtlebackzoo.com.