Ocean Community News

The Florida Aquarium Releases Rehabilitated Sea Turtles  in Proud Moment for Staff

On August 20, three juvenile green sea turtles were reintroduced into the Atlantic Ocean on the Palm Coast by The Florida Aquarium.

The turtles, referred to at the time of release as Hawk, Piper and Luna, originally stranded off the East Coast of Florida in March 2021 as a result of a large cold-stun event. After 5 months of specialized care from the animal care professionals at The Florida Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center, the trio was triumphantly returned to the open ocean by biologists Jessica Sandelli and Alyssa Fessett. 

While another success for The Florida Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Conservation Program, the event was especially poignant for Jess Sandelli. During her 6-year tenure at the Aquarium, this achievement was not only her first experience assisting with the rehabilitation of sea turtles, it was also the first time ever witnessing their reintroduction.

Sandelli, who worked at the downtown Tampa campus caring for a variety of animal ambassadors, recently transferred to the Aquarium’s Center for Conservation Apollo Beach, Fl.   

“My first day at the Center for Conservation was March 23,” said Sandelli. “Which turned out to be the day we received a very large number of critically ill sea turtles, including two of the turtles I just helped release.”

That day back in March was not only a milestone for Sandelli, it was also a record-setting day for The Florida Aquarium when the team of animal care professionals admitted 17 sea turtles to the Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center. A large cold-stun event on the East Coast of Florida resulted in the single largest admission of sea turtles to The Florida Aquarium.   

The patients, a group of green sea turtles, were rescued from the Volusia-Daytona area by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) before being transferred to The Florida Aquarium. All were treated for the effects of cold-stunning as well as debilitation and severe epibiota coverage.

“These turtles came in extraordinarily debilitated,” said Sandelli. “To watch them progressively get better because of the care they received from The Florida Aquarium and to get where they are today, it’s emotional. It was truly a privilege to participate in this release”. 

Cold-stunning occurs when cold-blooded animals, like sea turtles, are exposed to unusually cold water and/or air temperatures for an extended period of time; causing a hypothermic reaction that may include a lower heart rate, decreased circulation, lethargy, secondary infections including pneumonia and if left untreated, death.  

“These three animals were treated with antibiotics and supportive care,” said Ashley Riese, Manager of the Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Conservation Program. “Like all of our sea turtle patients, each had a medical treatment plan that was created by our Staff Veterinarian, Dr. Lindsay Waxman to meet their specific medical needs”. 

Hawk arrived to The Florida Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center in early March along with six other sea turtles while Piper and Luna arrived in late March along with 15 other sea turtles. 

“This work would not be possible without our partners in conservation - The Sea Turtle Hospital at Whitney Laboratory, Marine Science Center and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC),” added Riese. 

Sandelli shared this experience with several of her colleagues, including Riese, but most notably Alyssa Fessett. 

“We did a recovery together four years ago,” said Sandelli, who was wistful in her recollection. “Alyssa and I have basically grown up in our careers together here at The Florida Aquarium. We thought it would be cool if one day we could see these important efforts come full circle where we would be able to release a turtle. To be able to do that together was special.”  

Also a Biologist, Fessett works full-time at the Florida Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation.

“It was a long-time coming,” added Sandelli. “I am blown away.”  

All sea turtle rehabilitation work conducted by The Florida Aquarium is done with the approval of (FWC) under conditions not harmful to marine turtles and authorized under conservation activities pursuant to FWC MTP-21-179.

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