SAN DIEGO — Boat strikes are one of the biggest threats to sea turtles.
They occur when a boat makes contact with a sea turtle in the water, which can either kill the turtle instantly or will lead to a slow death from wounds, internal injuries, or impaired buoyancy.
Emerald is an Atlantic Green Sea Turtle and was found floating and injured in Florida after being hit by a boat, leaving her with a condition called Bubble Butt syndrome that robs her of the ability to control her buoyancy.
Emerald was treated at The Turtle Hospital in Florida, but her injuries prevented her from being released to the wild. She was transported from The Turtle Hospital to the Living Coast Discovery Center via FedEx to live out her days in their Turtle Lagoon as a coastal wildlife ambassador.
Aiyana Reissman, the animal care manager at Living Coast, said Emerald has now been fitted with her own little wetsuit and weights to help her get back to swimming comfortably.
“The wetsuit itself can serve as both a flotation device to lift up certain parts of her body, or it can serve as a way to add in different weights to help her sink as she needs to,” Reissman said.
Reissman’s connection to sea turtles was forged when she was young, and she is grateful she gets to work with sea turtles like Emerald every day.
“When I was 15, I saw a sea turtle in the wild for the first time,” she said. “And that was kind of my life-changing moment when I said ‘all right, this is what I want to do forever.’”
All sea turtles found in U.S. waters are currently listed as endangered or threatened by the Endangered Species Act. Sadie Klughers, another staff member at Living Coast, said they are a nonprofit zoo and aquarium focused on education and conservation.
“When people come to The Living Coast, they get to see a sea turtle up close where they might not get to see them in their everyday life,” Klughers said. “And it helps them learn that they’re here and they can learn about boat strikes and littering and the things that can happen if you don’t work to conserve these animals. So we hope that one day everyone will kind of see the bigger picture and understand what they can do to help save sea turtles, locally and beyond.”
Reissman is making sure all the sea turtles here are happy and healthy. She is also hoping for the day they will be safe in the sea.
“If we are driving on the street, something that’s always in the back of our mind are the other animals that are present there, and keeping an eye out for them,” she said. “So we should have that same mindset when we’re out on the water too. There are other animals there and we need to be conscious of that.”
The Living Coast is open for public and private tours.