Ocean Life
8:31 am
Tue April 1, 2014

Sea Turtle's Amazing Journey By Sea And By Air

Originally published on Mon March 31, 2014 4:17 pm

[Youtube]

All of the species of sea turtles that inhabit the oceans are threatened or endangered.

Pollution, poachers, predators and fishing gear can all be dangers. So can cold water.

Today, a story of how one sea turtle — Biscuits — escaped certain death in the cold waters of New England thanks to the New England Aquarium and the generosity of one airplane pilot.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Vicki Croke of WBUR explains.

Reporter

Copyright 2014 WBUR-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wbur.org.

Transcript

ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:

And a couple minutes now on sea turtles. They deserve some attention. Did you know that every species in the ocean is either threatened or endangered by pollution, poachers, predators, fishing gear and cold water? But we have a story of how one escaped certain death in the waters off New England thanks to the New England Aquarium and the generosity of one airline pilot.

From the HERE AND NOW contributors network, WBUR's Vicki Croke explains.

VICKI CROKE: Inside the New England Aquarium, several sea turtles glide around a large pool. Most of them weigh 40 to 50 pounds, but at the far end there's one turtle as big and round as a truck tire. Biscuits weighs in at about 200 pounds. Her shell and head are spotted with large puzzle squares of brown, like a giraffe. Her rounded head and sharp beak are similar to an owl's, and her eyes are big and dark.

CONNIE MERIGO: For us here, Biscuits is probably the most important turtle. They're all endangered, they're all important, but only one in 1,000 turtles makes it from the egg stage to the size turtle that Biscuits is now.

CROKE: Connie Merigo directs the aquarium's turtle rescue and rehab program. She says Biscuits is one of three kinds of sea turtles here, and all of them have been what the experts call cold stunned. Sea turtles are reptiles. They're cold-blooded, and when water temperatures drop in the fall, turtles that don't head south in time are left hypothermic, lethargic and prone to pneumonia and shock. Merigo says that happened to 88 sea turtles brought to them this season from Cape Cod Bay.

MERIGO: Any of these turtles would have died if they didn't get out of the cold and come here for treatment.

CROKE: Biscuits is the biggest and oldest loggerhead brought to the New England Aquarium in the last 15 years, and she was in tough shape: emaciated, banged-up and covered in mud, sand, algae and huge barnacles.

MERIGO: She's eating really well. The color in her shell is coming back. When she first came in, she was very lethargic. She just stayed at the bottom of the tank and didn't swim around. And now you can see how active she is.

CROKE: Biscuits may be lucky, but she's not out of danger yet. All the turtles here face a long drive down south to warmer waters. That's something especially tough for big Biscuits since, as Connie Merigo says, older turtles tend to become especially stressed by the trip.

MERIGO: I was really nervous about putting that large turtle through a very lengthy ground transport.

CROKE: Enter Tom Haas.

TOM HAAS: So we got full tanks? Once we get the fuel truck out of the way, we can carry the turtles in. We've got some muscle onboard to pick these boys up. It's going to be an exciting day.

CROKE: Haas is a board member and volunteer LightHawk, a non-profit consortium of pilots. LightHawk offer free lifts to conservation causes across North and Central America. Haas' plan is to fly Biscuits and two smaller loggerheads from Norwood Airport in Massachusetts to a rehab facility on a barrier island off the coast of Georgia. A massive ice storm barreling up the East Coast doesn't seem to bother him.

HAAS: Got a big storm coming in, huh? I was watching the weather down there, and it was like holy Moses, no way. But it's nice. We'll get in fine.

CROKE: Most of the plane's leather seats have been removed.

HAAS: So they're going to put the two small ones in first.

CROKE: Plastic sheeting and drop clothes cover the carpeted floor. There's a good reason for that. It smells a little bit like maybe turtle pee in this beautiful plane now.

HAAS: Got some fuel, starter, ignition. Pumps are on. Batteries are looking good.

CROKE: Here we go. Biscuits is in the air. Tom Haas leaves the controls to copilot Nathan Brown(ph) to come back and visit for a moment.

HAAS: So here we are, flying at 26,000 feet, smooth ride, very nice for the turtles. I'm going to go right down the coast, right into St. Simons Island in Georgia.

CROKE: As we're about to land, Biscuits starts to get fidgety. It could be because of the descent. Biologists know that turtles are deep divers and that they're sensitive to magnetic fields. Staff from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center are waiting on the runway to load the turtles into a heated van.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Awwwww.

(LAUGHTER)

CROKE: It's too cold and windy to release Biscuits and the other turtles into the ocean today, but Tom Haas is already anticipating the moment.

HAAS: Oh, I'm exhilarated. I'm pumped up. It's exciting and fun. I'm an avid scuba diver, so I've seen these turtles in the ocean and how free they are. So to me tonight when I go home, I'll think about these turtles and that I've really done something nice for them.

CROKE: Weeks later, on March 11, Biscuits and another turtle named Snagglepus(ph) are set free into the warm waters off the coast of Florida. Not much chance of them being cold-stunned here, but the oceans can still be a dangerous place because of poaching, pollution and the risk of getting tangled in fishing gear. But Biscuits is back where she belongs, and perhaps she'll continue to beat the odds. For HERE AND NOW, I'm Vicki Croke.

YOUNG: You can see a video diary of Biscuits' journey at hereandnow.org. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.