Florida Sea Turtle Rescue

Gulfarium CARE Center releasing rehabilitated sea turtles

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Florida Sea Turtle Release

Dozens of onlookers gathered to watch as the Gulfarium CARE Center released locally rehabilitated sea turtles back into the Gulf at Inlet Beach in South Walton on July 13. It was a sweet sight to see these incredible creatures healthy and headed home!

If you were unable to attend the release, be sure to watch this video that shows one of the rehabilitated turtles making its way home.

As part of the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park in Fort Walton Beach, the Gulfarium CARE Center was established as a non-profit to enhance the Gulfarium’s marine conservation efforts, including rescue, rehabilitation, and release of marine animals. The non-profit’s mission is to Conserve, Act, Rehabilitate, and Educate (CARE) in regards to coastal conservation. To be successful in its mission, the Gulfarium CARE Center implements these steps to “ensure the future of marine animals and their habitats; play an active role in marine conservation; support marine animal rescue, recovery, and release; and inspire awareness for marine conservation issues.”

With nearly all of the world’s seven species of sea turtles classified as endangered, sea turtle rehabilitation is an important aspect of the CARE Center’s work. The program has been integral in rehabilitating and releasing hundreds of sea turtles found on the Gulf Coast—including Loggerhead, Leatherback, Kemp’s Ridley, and Green—back into the open water.

Are Sea Turtles Worth Saving?

Saving a Sea Turtle in Florida

Yes, yes, yes! Sea turtles are definitely worth saving. These creatures are critical to maintaining balance in marine ecosystems. They help preserve the health of seagrass beds and coral reefs, which are essential habitats for other marine life. Unfortunately, most sea turtle species are endangered, and three are considered critically endangered. This is due in large part to human activities such as poaching and overexploitation, habitat destruction, accidental capture, and climate change. If the number of sea turtles continues to dwindle into extinction, it will have catastrophic effects on the ocean’s ecosystem. That is why sea turtles are worth saving, and why sea turtle rescue, rehabilitation, and release are an important piece of the CARE Center’s program.

Related article: Everything You Need to Know About Sea Turtles

How Do You Rescue a Sea Turtle?

Rescuing a Sea Turtle

If you find a stranded sea turtle that appears to be injured or dead, contact the appropriate authorities. In Florida, call the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922). While waiting for the authorities, monitor the animal from a distance, taking note of its position and breathing. Sea turtles are not typically aggressive, but can bite if they feel they are in danger. Though you may be tempted to help the turtle by moving it or even pushing it back into the water, this can actually do more harm than good. It can cause the sea turtle to become stranded elsewhere or die. Once the authorities arrive, they can take appropriate action to help the stranded animal.

What is Sea Turtle Rehabilitation?

Sea Turtle Rehabilitation

Sea turtle rehabilitation is the process of evaluating and caring for injured sea turtles, with the goal of re-introducing the turtles back into the ocean if possible. Turtles can be stranded for a variety of reasons, such as being accidentally hooked, entangled, or other injuries or illnesses. At the Gulfarium CARE Center, sea turtle patients are evaluated using FWCC guidelines, which provide the staff with “the necessary information needed to evaluate a method for rehabilitation, recovery, and release.” Many of the CARE Center’s turtle patients are cared for and eventually released into the Gulf. Turtles are released as close as possible to where they were initially stranded. If a sea turtle is deemed un-releasable due to medical reasons, it will be given a permanent home at the Gulfarium CARE Center and cared for as necessary. 

Can I Touch a Sea Turtle in Florida?

Sea Turtles and People

No, it is illegal to touch a sea turtle in Florida. This includes baby sea turtles, sea turtle nests, and eggs. Sea Turtles are protected under Florida’s Marine Turtle Protection Act and the US Endangered Species Act of 1973. Touching or picking up a sea turtle carries stiff monetary penalties (into the tens of thousands of dollars) and up to a year of imprisonment. Because humans are the largest threat to sea turtle populations, it is important to understand and adhere to sea turtle regulations so that you can do your part in protecting these marvelous creatures. In addition to the no-touch rule, the laws also prohibit shining artificial light near sea turtles. Sea turtles use the light of the moon to find their way back to the ocean, and artificial light can endanger them, causing them to go in the wrong direction or leaving them susceptible to predators. 

How Can You Help Sea Turtles?

Helping Sea Turtles in Florida

There are plenty of ways to help in sea turtle rescue and recovery, as well as conservation education—volunteer at a rehabilitation center, including our very own Gulfarium CARE Center on the Emerald Coast. Donate to sea turtle rescue organizations. Share rehabilitation and release stories with friends, family, and on your social media. Attend a sea turtle release. Reduce your use of single-use plastics and other materials that can pollute the sea turtle’s ocean habitat. Fill holes or knockdown sandcastles on the beach, which can be an obstacle to sea turtle hatchlings trying to get to the water.

With your help, we can continue to conserve our marine neighbors and their habitat!

See more: 10 Epic South Walton Nature Photos