When Sea Turtles Come Marching Home

Sep 7, 2018

After a little over a year of treatment at Sea Turtle Recovery, Tammy makes her way back into the ocean.
Credit Ang Santos / WBGO

Before the non-profit Sea Turtle Recovery hospital opened at the Turtle Back Zoo, there was no long-term care available for sick and injured sea turtles in New Jersey.  Bill Deerr and Brandi Biehl are the dynamic duo that run the operation.  

“All sea turtles in the world are either threatened or endangered.  That means there’s not many left and we have to do everything we can to save them,” Deerr said.

Taking a tour of the treatment facility with Deerr and Biehl, they talk about the rehab tanks and some of their current patients.

“We see injuries like propeller strikes and fishing related injuries.  We also see illness like respiratory infections,” Deerr said.

Tammy in her final days at Sea Turtle Recovery at the Turtle Back Zoo in Essex County, New Jersey.
Credit Ang Santos / WBGO

“What’s amazing about each and every sea turtle that comes in is people don’t realize how much personality each sea turtle has.  To describe one does not describe them all,” Biehl said.  “We currently have one that is ridiculously picky and only wants crab so stubbornly tries to revolt against squid, capelin, herring and everything we offer.  Then we have one that is very much…feisty is the appropriate word.  We love to see that.  That means we’re doing our job and their staying wild.”

The most recent group of sea turtles being released from rehab include three Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, and one female loggerhead.  

“Tammy is our adult female loggerhead.  She is about 40 years old.  She’s been in our hospital a little over a year, after being rescued by the Coast Guard cutter Lawrence Lawson off the coast of Cape May,” Deerr said.  “She was found struggling at the surface.  They brought her on board and we transferred her to the hospital.  When we picked her up she had over thirty-eight pounds of mud, barnacles, and mussels growing on her shell which is not normal.  When we removed all of that debris from her we found that she had been hit by a boat propeller and had six cuts down her back.  She was severely underweight, hadn’t been eating properly and had some internal infections.  We’ve treated her for all of that.  Now she’s eating properly, back at a healthy weight and ready to return to the ocean.”

Twenty-seven turtles have now been treated and released since Sea Turtle Recovery opened in late 2016.
Credit Ang Santos / WBGO

At Point Pleasant Beach, a crowd of over 100 people watched as the rehabilitated sea turtles are released back into the ocean.  Twenty-seven turtles have now been treated and released since Sea Turtle Recovery opened in late 2016. Biehl is asking others to do their part to keep sea turtles safe. 

“It’s up to everyone to keep our beaches and oceans clean,” Biehl said.  “These sea turtles went back home but it’s not really a home if we keep destroying it.  It’s up to everyone to make sure that they really are safe and really at home.”

And just like that, Brandi Biehl and Bill Deerr will head back to Sea Turtle Recovery at the Turtle Back Zoo, preparing a home for the turtle’s that fail to migrate to warmer climates when winter starts.