DENNIS, Mass. — Given the occasion, much calmer waters would have been preferred for the dozens of people who gathered along the beach in West Dennis, Massachusetts. But regardless of the wind and near 4-foot ocean swells, the work went on to release a handful of endangered sea turtles that were successfully rehabilitated after almost freezing to death in the Atlantic Ocean last winter.
Linda Lory, a biologist with the New England Aquarium, was part of the team who came here to send these sea turtles home.
“I hope they’re gonna do what they need to do to survive,” she said while holding a plastic crate with a turtle inside.
To fully understand how momentous of a moment this is though, you must briefly travel back in time to a brutally cold day last December, when we found Bob Prescott walking the shores of Cape Cod with eyes trained on the sea desperately searching for endangered sea turtles. Thousands of them had become stranded out in the Atlantic and were suffering from hypothermia.
So, what's happening?
The biggest factor is rising sea level temperatures. The Gulf of Maine is one of the fastest-warming parts of the Atlantic Ocean, and as more and more sea turtles are being lured there each year in search of food and warm water, they're getting stuck. When winter hits and the turtles try to swim south, they are getting trapped in Cape Cod Bay.
After being rescued by volunteers, the turtles spent about seven months at the New England Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital in Quincy, Massachusetts. Over the course of the summer, hundreds will be released back into the ocean in strategic locations across the East Coast.
“Some of these turtles don’t get better when they wash up. They’re really sick, so it’s a long recovery process,” said Kara Dodge, one of the research scientists who help rehabilitate dozens of turtles that were rescued by volunteers.
Many of the turtles are also being released with tracking devices attached to them, which will give researchers across the country a better idea of how successful these release efforts are.
“We need to understand how many survive after the rehabilitation process,” Dodge added.