New Jersey’s newest rehabilitation center welcomes first sea turtles

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — The first injured sea turtles arrived last month at New Jersey’s new and only long-term sea turtle rehabilitation center, the Sea Turtle Recovery at Turtle Back Zoo. The 10 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles were transported from the New England Aquarium in Massachusetts, where the season has already brought nearly 450 cold stunned sea turtles ashore in the state.

“For over six years I helped transport sea turtles that needed surgery or long-term treatments as far as North Carolina to receive care,” co-executive officer Brandi Biehl of the Sea Turtle Recovery nonprofit organization said. “Now, thanks to support from Essex County and the public, we can treat sea turtles right here in the state and provide assistance to other facilities in the Northeast that become overcrowded.”

As water temperatures rapidly drop this time of year in the Northeast, especially in Cape Cod and Long Island, biologists and volunteers prepare for an average of more than 570 sea turtles that are stunned by the cold, a reaction that can lead to frostbite, malnutrition, dehydration, shock, pneumonia and possibly death. Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead and green sea turtles are susceptible to cold stunning if they do not head south by the time water temperatures drop. The new facility highlights a collaboration among Sea Turtle Recovery, NOAA Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the zoo to rehabilitate protected sea turtles.

“Sea Turtle Recovery will provide valuable rehabilitation space to accommodate an increasing trend in cold-stunned sea turtle strandings in our region, from Maine to Virginia,” Greater Atlantic Region sea turtle stranding coordinator Kate Sampson of NOAA Fisheries said. “An increase in rehabilitation capacity in our region means fewer turtles will have to be transported to the southeast region during the initial, critical stages of their medical care.”