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Press Release

Mystic Aquarium Kickstarts New Year with Rehabilitation of 16 Critically Endangered Sea Turtles

January 8, 2024

Mystic, CT – January 8, 2024 – Mystic Aquarium is diving into the New Year full steam ahead with a significant conservation initiative following the arrival of sixteen cold-stunned Kemp's ridley sea turtles. On December 17, these turtles, which are a critically endangered species, were carefully transported to Mystic Aquarium's rehabilitation facility, the Milne Ocean Science and Conservation Center, after being found cold-stunned off Cape Cod. Initially treated at the National Marine Life Center in Buzzards Bay, Massachusetts, they were triaged, stabilized, and transferred to Connecticut for longer-term care. 

The geographic layout of Cape Cod presents unique challenges for these turtles. Kemp’s ridley turtles are the smallest sea turtle species, and their size makes it harder for them to navigate out of Cape Code Bay, fight currents, and migrate south. When temperatures drop abruptly, they become hypothermic, leading to immobilization and a drastic drop in heart rate and respiration. Once they strand on Cape Cod's beaches, their survival is at significant risk without intervention and care.  

These rescue efforts are part of a larger regional initiative to address the mass stranding event of cold-stunned sea turtles. The Milne Ocean Science and Conservation Center, with its long-term care facilities, supports various stranding organizations in Massachusetts responding to this crisis.  

The turtles arrived in  boxes traditionally used to transport bananas, chosen for their ideal size, ventilation, and suitability for the small size of the turtles. Over ten dedicated animal care team members welcomed the turtles to their temporary home. The Milne Ocean Science and Conservation Center plays a crucial role in this conservation effort with its state-of-the-art quarantine and rehabilitation facility. The Center is equipped with temperature control to maintain optimal conditions; keeping both water and air around 75 degrees, which is essential for the health of these cold-stunned sea turtles.     

Each turtle receives a personalized treatment plan from arrival, including medical examinations and radiographic assessments, crucial for monitoring conditions such as pneumonia and bone infections. The treatment regimen is extensive, encompassing antibiotics and specialized wound care. From medical care to the commitment and expertise of the rehabilitation team, including over 40 volunteers, there is much hope for the eventual release of these turtles.   

"The average rehabilitation period is expected to be between 3 to 5 months. Once the turtles get a clean bill of health from our veterinarians, we'll be able to transport them down south to warmer waters where they will be released," says Sarah Callan, Animal Rescue Program Manager. "Working with sea turtles is quite an honor and pretty special when you think about the long-term conservation impacts, we can make. Release days leave you with a feeling of hope and promise as we work towards the survival of a species for generations to come.” 

“These sea turtles were rescued almost exactly on the 50th anniversary of the Endangered Species Act, critical federal legislation that has been instrumental in the recovery of countless endangered species,” says Katie Cubina, Senior Vice President for Mission Programs. Conservation and rehabilitation efforts like this are imperative to ensure the survival of these species for future generations. This project underlines the immense  efforts required for the recovery of critically endangered species, where every individual saved makes a difference, and reflects Mystic Aquarium's commitment to marine life conservation.”