WEST ORANGE, NJ — Hundreds of sea turtles were unable to migrate this year before water temperatures became too cold. Sea Turtle Recovery, located at the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, has added 17 new sea turtle patients. They join one patient already in the hospital from 2019.
Turtle Back Zoo houses New Jersey’s only long-term animal care hospital in the state.
Collaborating with NOAA, National Marine Life Center, and New England Aquarium’s overcrowded facility in Massachusetts, Sea Turtle Recovery drove, on Dec. 2, the nine hours round-trip to bring back 16 critically endangered Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles. All of these sea turtles have a range of problems from lung infections to broken bones that are being treated.
Also, just four days later on Dec. 6, a 12-pound Green Sea Turtle stranded in Cape May and was brought to the hospital with a heart rate of just two beats per minute versus the normal 30 beats per minute. It too is now being diagnosed and treated at Sea Turtle Recovery.
“This is our busy season, and we put our lives aside for these patients. One if not both of our two technicians are here 24/7, and these endangered and threatened sea turtles are given swims, medications, and other treatments as often as every 4 hours when needed. It is a passion, and these important marine species are key to helping many ocean ecosystems survive. They need help and we need them,” Co-Executive Officer Brandi Biehl said.
However, even with this being the nonprofit’s fifth year inside the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo, there are new challenges. This season has been more difficult as COVID has taken its toll both financially and with volunteers. Sea Turtle Recovery has had to drop all education programming and focus just on maintaining the sea turtles' needs.
“We can’t get sick right now, especially not with COVID. These animals depend on us. Therefore, instead of our normal 10 volunteers a day for the critical first two weeks, we limit it to two or less individuals. This makes it harder, but we, as a nation, are all struggling together in so many ways, and we are just one of those groups making it work until things get better,” stated Co-Executive Officer Bill Deerr.
Sea Turtle Recovery is finding, like so many other small businesses, a way to survive in difficult times, and the turtles they are saving will need months of care and rehabilitation. However, they want their patients to be an inspiration.
“These sea turtles come in with all the odds against their survival and time after time they survive. Hopefully their stories bring us all comfort and joy,” Biehl said.
Sea Turtle Recovery is an independent nonprofit that uses a building inside the Essex County Turtle Back Zoo. They rely heavily on donations and sea turtle adoptions to care for their patients.