Harrison County

J.P. and Amelia, 2 endangered sea turtles, get second chance

J.P. and Amelia, two recently rescued Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, were released into the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday after a brief rehab on land.

A crew from the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies helped nurse the two turtles back to health so the endangered animals could be returned to their home.

“We see these turtles all the time here,” IMMS research scientist Mystera Samuelson said Wednesday. “It’s the most common species. So it’s kind of amazing to know that they are endangered.”

The Gulf of Mexico is the turtle’s biggest natural habitat. But their familiarity here can be deceiving. They are one of the rarest and most endangered turtle species in the world.

The turtles are drawn to the Coast waters for several reasons. They find a plentiful supply of blue crab, their primary food choice. The younger turtles like the shallow waters, too, IMMS’ marine conservation ecologist Eric Pulis said. But their population has fallen off since it reached its highest point the 1980s, Pulis said. The 2010 BP oil spill after the Deepwater Horizon explosion has created even more hazard for the turtles, among other marine species.

The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies picks up turtles when they are reported beached on the Coast. They take them to IMMS veterinarian Dr. Debra Moore. Moore conducts a series of tests, including a check for broken bones, infections and pneumonia, and a blood test. So long as a turtle gets a clean bill of health, Purvis and crew then take it back out to the Gulf waters.

Some turtles are injured by passing boats. Others wash up on shore. Most turtles reported to IMMS have been caught by an angler. That was the case with J.P. and Amelia.

Wednesday, the crew took turns spraying water on the two turtles and gently rubbing their shells as they headed out into the Gulf waters. The turtles seem anxious.

“Calm down, buddy,” Pulis said to one of them. “You’re almost home.”

About two miles out, the crew said their goodbyes and dropped the turtles into the water. Their flippers started flapping and they swam off.

The turtles have satellite tags with GPS sensors on them so IMMS can track their movements. The sensors transmit the turtles’ location and details such as when a turtle surfaces for air. The information IMMS gets helps them understand the turtles a little more.

The more Pulis and others can learn about the turtles, the better the chance they’ll have conserving and restoring the species. The turtles can be tracked on the IMMS website.

Since 2010, Pulis said, IMMS has released about 1,200 turtles.

“This is part of the recovery and restoration of the species. We’re still not back to the pre-’80s numbers. That’s where we’d like to be,” he said.