Scores of turtles ‘wash back’ for rehab

Associate Publisher

‘Turn him loose,’ is usually the sentiment of onlookers at sea turtle nest openings when volunteers open the nest and find remaining hatchlings that didn’t yet make it into the Gulf. This is not the attitude, however, when a young sea turtle washes back ashore.

According to Longboat Key Turtle Watch Vice President Cyndi Seamon, a number of sea turtle ‘washbacks’ have occurred over the last two weeks due to the large amount of rain, wind and the larger high tides. Washbacks are sea turtles that are several weeks old, have made their way out to sea, and are camouflaging themselves in the sargassum (a brown seaweed) offshore; when wind, currents and high tide push the young sea turtles back onshore.

“Because of the weeks of onshore winds, Mote Marine and Anna Maria Turtle Watch have found washbacks. They are grown to a couple of weeks old, and because they have been in the water already, they have to be put in the Mote hospital,” said Seamon.

Once sea turtle hatchlings crawl out of their nests, they swim in search of the sargassum seaweed which floats in island-like formations offshore where the hatchlings find refuge and protection from larger predators. They forage there for a while as the seaweed floats with the currents and tides. Sometimes storms and high tides from August through November cause the mass of seaweed to be pushed onto the beach, and the young sea turtles along with it.

Even though the washbacks are a few weeks old, they cannot simply be placed back out to sea. Since they have washed ashore, the turtles are typically dehydrated and may need medical attention.

The sea turtles are put into tanks and fed pellets and shrimp until their behavior indicates that they are healthy enough to be put back into their natural habitat and survive.

“The washbacks can then be put back into the water when they’ve shown that they can eat properly, diving for their food, and when there is a boat ready. Right now the boat has not been out due to the rough waters,” said Seamon.

Seamon estimates the number of washbacks at Mote is currently around 30 and that the Mote Marine boat may go out on Aug. 4 – 5 to relocate several of the washbacks.

If you find a stranded sea turtle call Mote Marine’s message line at 941-388-4331.



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