Students in Jennifer Murray’s North Fork Audubon Society outdoor program spent Dec. 15 at Inlet Pond County Park in Greenport, searching for stranded sea turtles.
It was a cold, windy day, with water temperatures in Long Island Sound below 50 degrees — the temperature that stuns sea turtles and can lead to death.
A group of ten 7- to 13-year-olds followed the trail through the woods to the pebbly Sound beach. “Our purpose was to look for cold-stunned turtles,” said Ms. Murray. “We had been learning about them and how to look for them and save them.”
As they canvassed the beach, student Eleanor Siar of Cutchogue, 13, spotted something — she wasn’t sure what. At first, she thought it was a rock.
But as she got closer, Eleanor could see it was a sea turtle. And not just any turtle, but a Kemp’s Ridley, the world’s most endangered species of sea turtle.
“When I got there I feared the turtle was dead,” said Ms. Murray. “It was cold-stunned. When people see a turtle in this condition they often make the mistake of leaving them or putting them back in the water.
“It was a cold, windy day,” she continued. “The first thing we did was get it out of the wind. We blocked the wind and covered it with dry seaweed.”
They immediately called the New York Marine Rescue Center in Riverhead and gave their exact GPS location. “We had students in the group who had taken marine rescue training, and they gave great advice to the kids. We knew not to warm them up too fast,” said Ms. Murray.
With the center alerted, the kids carefully carried the turtle up to the nearest road, where a representative from the center met them and quickly took the turtle to be treated.
“At the center, they did a slow effort to take its temperature and raise it slowly over several days,” Ms. Murray said. “It was feeding as of yesterday.” The turtle was later named “Turtle Swift.”
Kemp’s Ridley turtles go south when water temperatures chill to the 50-degree mark and winter in far warmer waters. They return in the spring. But some, like this one, get stranded in the cold water.
For students in the program, that rescue — and the entire day — was a huge achievement. “It makes a big impact to see one of these turtles up close and save it,” Ms. Murray said. “It’s a moment they won’t forget.”
Turtle Swift will spend the winter at the center and be released in the spring. Anyone who finds a stranded turtle while walking the beach this winter is asked to call the center’s hotline at 631-369-9829 so they can come to the rescue.