It’s at once a grim and hopeful statistic: Poppins, a 10-pound juvenile green sea turtle, made history Nov. 11 as the 25,000th sea turtle intake at the Marine Science Center in Ponce Inlet.
The science center, which has rehabilitated sea turtles since its opening in 2002, is the only permitted center in Volusia County. Whether it be performing surgery on injured turtles, giving hatchlings a place to rest if they became too tire to swim in the Atlantic Ocean, or providing medication to sick turtles, the center is equipped for whatever comes their way.
“It’s not the best milestone to achieve, considering these are injured sea turtles, but it’s still an important one,” said Chad Macfie, manager of the Marine Science Center. “It shows us how much the community cares about these sea turtles.”
Although the science center is currently closed because of the coronavirus, the rehabilitation center for sea turtles is still functioning. So far this year, Macfie said the facility has provided care for 141 injured or sick sea turtles. Last year, there were a total of 124 sea turtle intakes.
Allie Bernstein, manager of turtle rehabilitation at the center, said this year will be the second highest on record for turtle intakes. It follows 2010, when thousands of turtles were brought in for care after a cold stun event.
Poppins, who was found extremely lethargic, filled with “excessive fluids” and stranded off the coast of St. Augustine, has been treated with a healthy diet of fish and leafy greens. She was also cleaned, given vitamin injections and has had blood work completed, according to a county news release.
“There are some gastrointestinal things going on with Poppins, so we’re hydrating her, and putting her on antibiotics,” Bernstein said. “We’re still too soon to put a timeline on release, but we’re also looking at the surf and the temperatures out there right now to make sure conditions are right for releasing turtles.”
Most injured and sick sea turtles have a 3-4 month stay at the Marine Science Center to make sure they’re ready to return to the ocean, Bernstein added. And with 19 other turtles in the science center right now, there’s no shortage of work to be done.
“It’s a milestone where you ultimately want those turtles to be out there and be happy, but it’s a milestone for conservation and serving our mission,” she said. “We want to get those guys back out there, but we’re glad to be able to be able to provide that service to the county and for sea turtle conservation.”
In addition, 376 hatchlings and “washbacks,” or turtles that are in the sea and swept back to shore, have been rescued by members of the Volusia County Beach Safety Division and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and brought to the science center.
Generally, the process of rehabilitating a washback takes a couple weeks or more. If anyone happens to spot a turtle along the beach, Macfie said it’s important to make sure they’re out of harm’s way, but not to return the turtles to the water because they are often exhausted and cannot lift their heads up to breathe.
And while washback numbers seem to be typical of a normal year, Macfie said there’s been an uptick in the past five years of injured sea turtle intakes. Often found injured by plastic or monofilament fishing line, he said the upward trend is of concern.
“Taking in injured sea turtles is really not the best thing, but I’m glad that we’re there to care for these sea turtles,” he said. “The more people hear about these stories, the more we’re hoping they’ll be more aware and not leave plastic or fishing lines in the ocean.”
Anyone who comes across a baby sea turtle should contact the Volusia County Beach Safety Division at 386-239-6414. Beach safety employees are trained in dealing with washbacks and hatchlings, Macfie said.
“Community awareness and community support is so important to us and what we do at the marine science center,” Macfie said. “It’s great that people are concerned about these turtles that are stranded on the beach, and it’s a great thing that people are working together to help us care for these turtles.”