Ahh……summertime in the keys! The crystal clear waters and 90+ degree weather send locals and tourists alike looking for an escape to the ocean. The Florida Keys are home to an array of uninhabited islands, sandbars, coral reefs and hot fishing spots attracting all different kinds of boater enthusiasts. More people on the water, leads to more phone calls reporting sick and injured sea turtles to The Hospital. However more boats on the water, means an increase in hull and propeller strikes. Sea turtles can swim at bursts of speeds up to 25 miles per hour, but are often no match for the oncoming boat. Sick and injured sea turtles float and are unable to dive down to escape an imminent boat hit.
A sea turtles spine and ribs are fused to the shell. It is a living part of their body that grows, sheds and bleeds. A propeller can quite easily cut through the shell often severing or damaging the spine causing death or paralysis. If this doesn’t occur, the sea turtle will probably become a bubble butt. Bubble Butt Syndrome is caused by a boat hit, while the turtle is breathing in air. The sudden shock and impact of (usually the hull) the boat slamming down on their shell somehow forces the air out of their lungs into their body cavity. This air is permanently trapped inside the body cavity. Over time the shell distorts and a bubble forms on their “butt”, but it also causes these sea turtles to float….permanently. If a sea turtle floats they can not dive for food, escape predators or boat hits and at this time there is no cure for this syndrome. Often times, sea turtles who survive boat hits spend the rest of their lives at the hospital.
When boating remember to always follow channel markers. Cutting through shallow areas like sea grass beds is detrimental to this delicate environment as well as your boat! Sea grass beds are protected, and unlike the grass on your lawn, sea grass takes years to fully regrow. Green sea turtles are herbivores, typically spending much of their time feeding in these shallow areas, leaving them more susceptible to boat hits. Besides, you don’t want to ruin your prop or bottom paint by running aground!
Remember, sea turtles have to come to the surface to breathe so when boating keep your eyes open and stay alert. Following the speed limit is a great way to ensure you’re able to spot a sea turtle before ending up on top of him.
Sadly The Turtle Hospital has received reports of dead or injured sea turtles almost everyday during the past two weeks. Most of these were boat strikes. If you do see an injured or floating turtle, please call FWC at 1-888-404-FWCC. Reporting injured turtles is the only way we can rescue them. We do not patrol, we rely on YOU to know what to look for and call us.
Have a fun and SAFE summer!
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