PHOTOS BY: Barbara Bergwerf
Turtle rescue takes a sad turn
By Mary Pringle
July is a busy time for boat traffic and a busy time for sea turtles on our islands. Recently, a sub-adult (juvenile) loggerhead was spotted in the Intracoastal Waterway at Dewees Inlet by the staff of the Barrier Islands Eco Tour boat during one of their tours. This turtle had evidently been struck by a boat propeller and was severely wounded. Robert Hopkins, Master Captain and Naturalist, and Courtney Heuring who were leading the tour, gave their customers quite a demonstration in rescuing and caring for one of our area’s most precious natural resources.
They spotted the young turtle, which was not yet full-grown, floating in the water and navigated their boat close to it. When they grabbed it, the loggerhead started thrashing around in an attempt to escape their capture. They were able to wrestle it onboard, much to the surprise of their tour group. People are lucky to spot a sea turtle briefly as it surfaces to get a breath, but hardly ever get to have one as a fellow boat passenger. It was soon obvious to all that the wound was severe, cutting all the way through the body from the carapace (upper shell) into the body cavity and through the plastron or lower shell. But since the turtle was still alive, they hoped that the injury would not be fatal.
The boat landed at the Isle of Palms Marina and the Island Turtle Team was called to come and help with the rescue. Mary Pringle and Barbara Bergwerf responded and Sgt. Bobby Jimenez of IOP PD was already on the scene. They contacted the Department of Natural Resources and prepared to have the turtle transported to the SC Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital. There was much excitement and wonder from the passengers as the turtle was placed on a table to be removed from the boat by Mary and Courtney, with Sgt. Jimenez and Captain Hopkins standing by to lift it on to the dock. Unfortunately, the turtle died very soon – before the DNR truck arrived. The necropsy was performed the following day at the Aquarium.
Boaters in the ocean as well as in marinas and waterways constantly need to stay on the look out for sea turtles. They are often seen this time of year rising to the surface for air, and because of this, boat strikes are fairly common. The good samaritans on the Eco Tour boat were very sad that their rescue was in vain. However, valuable information is gained by these post mortem necropsies. This turtle’s blood supply had completely bled out of its body. Researchers are able to determine their age, sex, reproductive stage, and general state of health. On our two islands we’ve documented nineteen sea turtle strandings (deaths) this season. The public should always help by reporting injured or dead sea turtles by calling 886-6522, which is the Isle of Palms Police Department.
If you would like to have an interesting and educational experience, we encourage you to take a tour with the Barrier Island Eco Tour company. They teach the public about all aspects of our beautiful, natural ecosystem. Visit their website at www.nature-tours.com or call 886-5000 for reservations and questions.