Turtle improves after surgery to treat injuries

The young green turtle, a protected species, is recovering at Mote Marine in Sarasota after being found in a utility intake canal.

Published September 15, 2006

CRYSTAL RIVER - The condition of a young green turtle found seriously injured at the Progress Energy complex late last month is steadily improving in the care of the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota.

Earlier this week, a Mote veterinarian performed surgery on the animal, named Crystal, to remove a partially amputated flipper and some large tumors.

The day before Crystal was rescued, another protected sea turtle, a loggerhead, was found dead in the same utility intake canal.

Preliminary necropsy results released this week did not settle on a cause of death for that animal but did conclude the creature was sick.

Traumatic injuries on the turtle also were found to have happened after the animal was already dead, according to Rhonda Bailey, sea turtle stranding and salvage coordinator for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg.

Utility workers put that turtle on ice, delaying the necropsy by more than a week. Since then, Bailey said she has talked to Progress Energy employees about contacting her immediately when an animal is found stranded or dead and about trying to get dead turtles to a necropsy site as soon as possible.

That helps researchers learn more about what is happening to the protected sea creatures, Bailey said.

The news about Crystal is much better.

When the animal arrived at Mote Marine, it had been entangled in fishing line and had suffered a severe blow to its shell. Because of significant bleeding, the turtle was also anemic.

Since then Crystal has been eating well, even since surgery, and the anemia is correcting itself, reported facility spokeswoman Jamie Tacy.

Officials at Mote Marine say that with such a severe injury, it could be a year or more before Crystal is ready for release - and that's if the turtle's progress continues.

It is not uncommon for sea turtles to make their way up into the utility's intake canal. The National Marine Fisheries Service allows Progress Energy 75 "takes" of live sea turtles every year and three turtle kills as a result of plant operations.

This year there have been 13 turtles recovered or rescued at the plant, and five of those were dead from causes not related to the utility.

Progress Energy works with the various rescue organizations to save as many of the animals as they can, said utility spokesperson Carla Groleau.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at 564-3621 or behrendt@sptimes.com.