■ BY SUE ERWIN
On February 14, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) contacted the Boca Grande Sea Turtle Association to report a very large, deceased sea turtle on the beach near 21st Street.
Zone 1 turtle patrollers Louisa and Eliot Vestner were the first responders. However, by the time they arrived on scene, high tide had either covered or washed the turtle out to sea, and it could not be located.
The following day, Rob Greenwood, also a dedicated turtle patroller, walked the beach at low tide and discovered the turtle near 29th Street. He completed a stranding report, documenting the turtle’s size and condition for Florida Fish and Wildlife. The turtle had damage on its posterior scutes that appeared to be caused by a propeller.
The following day, a second, severely decomposed turtle washed up at the Boca Grande Club. Due to the degree of decomposition, it was unclear what caused the death of the turtle.
Before it could be documented, it washed out to sea and was not seen again. On February 21, another turtle washed up on the beach at Gulf Drive. This turtle also appeared to have injuries consistent with a boat strike.
“Sea turtles need to surface to breathe air, which puts them in danger of being struck by a boat propeller. Driver awareness and maintaining a safe speed help to reduce the risk,” said Mel Csank, turtle patrol volunteer.
Another Boca Grande Sea Turtle Association volunteer said she received a call on February 23 to document a fourth dead sea turtle. She said it was heartbreaking to see, and believed the cause of death was most likely a shark bite.
If you see a dead, sick, injured or distressed sea turtle, please call FWC’s 24-hour Wildlife Alert Number at 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922). Be prepared to tell the dispatcher the exact location of the turtle, its approximate size and whether it is dead or alive. If the turtle is alive, you may be asked to stay with it until help arrives. If the turtle is marked with spray paint, this indicates that the turtle has been previously documented and there is no need to report it. Low water temperatures also can have a dramatic impact on sea turtles. Fish and Wildlife Research Institute staff members coordinate the Florida Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network (FLSTSSN), which is responsible for gathering data on dead or debilitated sea turtles found in Florida. Debilitated turtles are rescued and transported to rehabilitation facilities.