KEY WEST, Fla. – An adult loggerhead sea turtle was released Friday in the Florida Keys, swimming into the Atlantic Ocean after recovering from a severe trap line entanglement.
As a crowd of well-wishers watched, staff and volunteers from the Keys-based Turtle Hospital, including hospital founder Richie Moretti and manager Bette Zirkelbach, released the over 200-pound female dubbed “Tina” at Key West's Higgs Beach.
“All species of sea turtles in the United States are listed on the Endangered Species Act,” said Zirkelbach. “Tina was a reproductive female, so it’s most important to get these gals back out to sea doing what they do best — and that’s making more baby sea turtles.”
The loggerhead was rescued in July off Big Pine Key after boaters Tina and Randy Summerlin spotted her entangled with a trap line around her neck. The reptile was quickly transported to the Turtle Hospital in Marathon.
At the hospital “Tina,” estimated to be more than 40 years old, was treated for a neck wound caused by the trap line. According to Zirkelbach, treatment also included broad-spectrum antibiotics, vitamins, fluids and a healthy diet of mixed seafood.
After being carried from the Turtle Hospital's "ambulance" to the water's edge at Higgs Beach by hospital staff and supporters including the Summerlins, “Tina” scented the ocean and appeared excited to leave the release bin.
Making her way down the sand, the reptile paused before entering the water, gazed around and then swam away as cheers and applause erupted.
“We have over 50 turtles at the Turtle Hospital, so to take a reproductive female and return her to the ocean — it doesn’t get any better than that,” Zirkelbach said.
Since it opened over 36 years ago as the world’s first state-licensed veterinary sea turtle hospital, the Florida Keys facility has treated and rehabilitated more than 2,000 injured sea turtles.
"Tina," a rescued adult loggerhead sea turtle, crawls to the Atlantic Ocean upon her release at Higgs Beach in Key West after rehabilitation at the Turtle Hospital. Photo: Rob O'Neal
Bette Zirkelbach, left front, and Richie Moretti, right front, both of the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital, help carry the 200-pound reptile to the beach for release to her ocean home. Photo: Rob O'Neal
Tina was rescued off Big Pine Key after being found with a trap line around her neck and was deemed ready for release after rehabilitative care at the Turtle Hospital. Photo: Rob O'Neal