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Rescued turtle recovers, returned to sea

If finding an endangered turtle on Wade’s Beach last December felt like an early Christmas present for Islander Hilary McDonald, knowing the turtle she found on Wade’s Beach last December has recovered and was able to be returned to the water last Thursday was a thrill.

It was an evening of celebration that attracted more than 200 people to Tiana Beach in Hampton Bays where the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle was returned to the water after being nursed back to health by experts at the New York Marine Rescue Center in Riverhead.

Ms. McDonald was walking her dog, Tabitha, on Wade’s Beach last December when the animal began sniffing at a mound of sand. Upon closer examination, Ms. McDonald realized it was a turtle, but thought it might have perished. When she was joined by friend Tracy McCarthy, who touched the turtle and saw movement, the two realized it might be saved. They immediately called Shelter Island Animal Control Officer Jenny Zahler.

Ms. Zahler recognized the turtle was of an endangered species with an estimated worldwide female nesting population of just 1,000, according to the Ocean Conservancy.

She brought the turtle to the New York Marine Rescue Center where experts began a five-day slow warming process. The warming process had to be done slowly, according to Rescue Program Director Maxine Montello who reported last week the turtle was ready to be returned to the sea. Once the turtle had been warmed to 70 degrees, it was able to slowly swim and be fed with a diet of fish and squid to help it recover its weight. Though the smallest of sea turtles, the Kemp ridleys are average about 100 pounds.

The turtle’s injured shell was treated with manuka honey that has antioxidant and antibacterial properties to treat wounds.

Ms. Zahler, who was at Tiana Beach when the turtle was returned to the water, noted there were many families with children on hand. She said it’s important for children to have such experiences so they grow up with an appreciation of nature. They will become responsible stewards of the environment, she said.

As delighted as she was to experience the event, she said Jackson Clark, 4, the son of Police Department Clerk Amanda Gutiw was even more excited.

Ms. Montello said publicity for turtle rescues is important because it not only saved this turtle, but alerts the public to be aware of what they can do to save so many more.

The New York Marine Rescue Center can be reached at 631 369 9840 and is located at 467 Main Street in Riverhead.