200 Baby Sea Turtles Rescued after Hurricane Ian

The turtles will be released when weather and ocean conditions improve.

rescued baby sea turtles float in tank
Baby turtles float in a tank.

Brevard Zoo

More than 200 baby sea turtles are recuperating after being rescued from the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

The Sea Turtle Preservation Society brought most of the tiny reptiles from the Cape Canaveral area to the Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Florida. There, staff and volunteers from the zoo’s Sea Turtle Healing Center categorized them by species and size, assessed their health, and are now caring for them until their release.

Young sea turtles find food and shelter in floating pieces of seaweed called sargassum. The turtles may have been making their first swim to the seaweed or were already in it when the rough weather disrupted them.

The species are sorted as “hatchlings” if they are less than 5 centimeters (about 2 inches) long or as “post-hatchlings” if they are longer.

“It’s hard to know the exact age of these babies, but we believe they’re less than a month old,” Lauren Delgado, communications manager for Brevard Zoo, tells Treehugger. “Most are green sea turtles, but we have a few loggerhead sea turtles and possibly one hawksbill.”

The turtles were checked out by zoo team members when they were first rescued and they’re watched regularly to make sure they continue to thrive. Most of them are healthy, but a few have skin issues or missing flippers, which could’ve been congenital or caused by a predator.

The healthy turtles are in a tank that includes drifting items to help the babies float more easily. Many choose instead to zoom around the water.

“They’re acting like regular sea turtle babies!” says Delgado. “They spend their days whizzing around their tank, napping on makeshift rests that mimic plants they might lay on in their natural range, and, of course, eating.”

The baby turtles are being fed a mix of lettuce and a mashed-up mixture of fish, shrimp, and clams. It’s probably their first food since eating the yolk of their eggs after hatching.

The turtles will remain at the center until their release. Depending on their health, weather, and ocean conditions, the turtles will eventually be transported by boat to be placed back in the sargassum.

Habitat Loss and Other Threats

hand holding baby sea turtle

Brevard Zoo

Six of the world’s seven species of sea turtles are classified as endangered or vulnerable to extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.

The hawksbill and Kemp’s Ridley are categorized as critically endangered, the green turtle is endangered, and the Olive’s Ridley, loggerhead, and leatherback are classified as vulnerable to extinction.

Sea turtles face many threats including illegal trade, fishing gear entanglement, loss of habitat, and climate change.

Sea turtles have been in existence for more than 100 million years.

“They are not considered dinosaurs, but they are prehistoric reptiles. Hundreds of years have allowed sea turtles the time to adapt to the changing environment,” says Delgado.

“As environmental changes accelerate, it is unknown if all species of sea turtles will be able to adapt. A more pressing issue for sea turtle survival is the human impact to their nesting beaches and foraging grounds. If humans do not find a better way to deal with unwanted rubbish, specifically single-use plastic, the survival of many species is in question.”

View Article Sources
  1. "Caring for Baby Sea Turtles After Hurricane Ian." Brevard Zoo.

  2. Lauren Delgado, communications manager for Brevard Zoo

  3. "Sea Turtle." World Wildlife Fund.

  4. "Sea Turtles." IUCN Red List.