Photo: VOA - P. Graitcer
Jekyll Island, Georgia, is best known as a summer vacation spot. But it’s also an important rehabilitation destination for hundreds of sick or injured sea turtles that wash up on Atlantic coast beaches each year.
“Twenty percent of the cases are boat strike-related injuries," says Terry Norton, a veterinarian who is director of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. "We get fishing line and fishhook-related injuries. There’s a disease called fibropapilloma, caused by the herpes virus, that can cause tumors on the skin. We get some real debilitated turtles.”
VOA - P. Graitcer
The operating room at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center looks like one you’d see at a major medical center for humans.
“This is a turtle with a boat strike injury to the head and to her shell," he says. "She actually had a little abscess in the skull. These little Velcro patches are for putting weights because she floats asymmetrically so that helps her dive a little better and get around a little better.”
Norton estimates that Ziva is 10-to-12 years old, which is young for a turtle. He says rehabilitating these injured or sick juveniles is vital to maintaining the worldwide sea turtle population.
“They become sexually mature at 35 years of age. That makes it really significant when there’s adult mortality. It took a lot of turtles to reach that point. It takes about 4,000 hatchlings and eggs to get to that one animal, so all these mature animals are very important to the population.”
Unfortunately, Ziva’s injuries are so extensive that she’ll never recover enough to be released back into the ocean. Instead, she’ll go to an aquarium to become a turtle ambassador as part of an educational exhibit.
VOA - P. Graitcer
Ten of thousands of the tourists who visit Jekyll Island each year come to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center to learn about the life cycle of turtles.
A highlight of their visit is the rehabilitation pavilion, where sea turtles, land turtles and even alligators can be seen recovering after their treatments.
“Out here they are all in quarantine areas…so since we are similar to a hospital setting, we try to keep as much under control as we can," says David Zailo, one of the center’s guides. "By separating the animals from one another, it’s easier to treat them. It’s easier to mark down what they feed and it's easier to mark down their progress as they’re healing.”
Visitors who really want to get close to turtles can join the center’s staff for an early morning turtle walk on a nearby protected stretch of beach.
Now, those eggs are hatching and a lucky few visitors will get to see the baby loggerheads crawl across the beach and into the ocean, to begin their perilous journey to adulthood.
VOA - Auguts 12, 2011