Return of the Prodigal Turtle
A Kemp’s ridley turtle returns home after an unexpected detour to Europe.
By Louie Bond
An ocean-crossing turtle with a terrible sense of direction has finally found its way back home to Texas, thanks to an international effort.
Flip, a Kemp’s ridley turtle usually found in the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, was found covered in sand on Monster Beach in The Hague, Netherlands, on Dec. 10, 2011, more than 5,000 miles from home. She was cold-stunned, injured and weak; her eyes were full of sand, and she had lost a lot of weight.
“We first had to clean her to see what kind of turtle it was,” says Maaike Schroeder of Sea Life Scheveningen Aquarium, where Flip received first care. “She was injured on her shield.” Flip appeared to be about 2 years old.
Flip refused to eat for the first few weeks, but X-rays found no blockage of her throat or any stomach difficulties. The Sea Life staff watched with concern, rejoicing when Flip slowly began to eat again. They weren’t the only ones. With a live webcam in place, local residents began to take great interest in Flip, watching her recovery.
Flip is released at Padre Island.
Knowing the plight of Kemp’s ridley turtles, the Sea Life staff decided to return her home. They began a long permit application process while Flip recovered. By June 2012, Flip’s weight had doubled, and she was considered strong enough to return home. With the approval of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the long application process continued with the Dutch government.
After months of red tape, Flip (with an accompanying Sea Life team) was flown to Texas on Nov. 1, and spent a week at Animal Rehabilitation Keep in Port Aransas, under the care of Tony Amos and his team of animal rehabilitators. On Nov. 9, Flip was released back into the warm Gulf waters at Padre Island National Seashore. Through the use of a tracker, the public can follow her movements at www.seaturtle.org.
Why so much fuss for one little turtle? “Kemp’s ridley turtles are highly endangered,” Schroeder explains. “Since Flip is a female turtle, it is important to get her back in nature to hopefully breed her own nest to help prolong the species.”
It took massive coordination and a mountain of paperwork to bring Flip home, so what lessons were learned along the way?
“Well, first we learned that Flip has a terrible sense of direction,” laughs Iain Scouller of Sea Life Grapevine Aquarium. “But she has become a strong symbol of our conservation message, with so many organizations gathering together to get Flip home.”