Over the past three weeks three different sea turtles were stranded on the shores of Shelter Island.
They were brought to Mashomack Preserve and passed along to the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation for recovery or animal autopsies.
While their presence in our area is a testament to the relatively clean water of the East End and the good work that The Nature Conservancy and many other conservation groups are doing here, the stranding of these endangered creatures is cause for concern.
On November 10, Rich Ruscica spotted a turtle on the shores of Smith Cove. The young, 18-inch loggerhead was pungent and missing the skin on its head. It will be examined for cause of death.
Last Saturday, famed ornithologist David Sibley was visiting Mashomack with his family. On a hike they spotted a turtle close to the water in Major’s Harbor. Only about a foot long, the little green turtle was unresponsive, but a volunteer from the Riverhead Foundation held out hope that once it warmed up it might still be alive.
Monday, a long-time frequent hiker at Mashomack was walking her dog near Wade’s Beach when she came across another turtle. She called Mashomack Preserve and Cindy Belt retrieved the turtle. Ashley Harrington of the Riverhead Foundation identified it as an 18-inch Kemp’s Ridley. The turtle was unresponsive, but she held out a slim hope that it might revive once warmed.
By now many turtles have left the Long Island area, but occasionally turtles remain and get trapped by rapidly chilling waters. “Cold stunning” occurs when a dramatic decrease in water temperatures makes it impossible for these cold-blooded animals to swim effectively and migrate to warmer water.
Without proper intervention, a cold stunned sea turtle will inevitably die of exposure and hypothermia.
The Riverhead Foundation offers sea turtle beach patrol training that allows the public to assist their rescue program by monitoring the local beaches for turtles, thereby increasing the probability of survival for these species.
Laurie and Peter Dobson, Jeanne Lawless and Greg Toner are part of this official patrol, but anyone who spends time near the shore can help. If you find a beached turtle, seal or whale, contact the Riverhead Foundation at their 24-hour stranding hotline at 369-9829.