A loggerhead sea turtle nicknamed “Big Bel” that has been treated in Mote’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital since November was returned to the wild today, Feb. 22, from Lido Beach.
Big Bel was found stranded off of Fort Myers Beach after Hurricane Isaac passed through the area at the end of August, said Bob Wasno, Facilities Manager and Public Outreach Coordinator at Florida Gulf Coast University’s Vester Marine and Environmental Science Field Station in Bonita Springs.
“I received a call from Turtle Time that tourists had phoned in a sick sea turtle on the south end of Fort Myers Beach. Everyone was preparing for the hurricane so I grabbed one of my interns from Toulouse University to help and picked up a buddy and his wife on the way,” Wasno said.
The turtle was about 50 yards off the beach in a shallow swash channel and was extremely lethargic. Wasno, along with intern Marine Fuhrmann and David and Tricia Kessel — and some bystanders who were on the beach — helped carry the turtle to a truck so it could be transported to the Vester field station. After a few days, Turtle Time, which monitors sea turtle nesting on Fort Myers Beach, picked the turtle up and transported it to CROW, a wildlife rehabilitation facility on Sanibel.
In November, Big Bel was transferred to Mote for additional treatment.
During its time in care, veterinary staff removed an incredible 22 pounds of epibiota growth on its carapace (living things like algae and barnacles). The turtle, a female, was believed to be suffering from lethargic loggerhead syndrome and also had old wounds, including missing part of a front flipper and most of a rear flipper. After months of treatment by CROW and Mote, Big Bel was finally ready to return to the wild on Friday.
With a crowd gathered on Lido Beach Friday to wish her well, the 214-pound turtle was set down on the sand near the water — and she crawled right in and then quickly disappeared!
Mote’s Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital has been treating sick turtles since 1995 and has treated more than 400 sea turtles. Mote has one of only three hospitals in the state that can treat turtles suffering from fibropapilloma tumors that require a separate treatment facility just for them. Each year, Mote must raise funds to support our treatment facilities.
Founded in 1955, Mote Marine Laboratory is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)3 research organization based in Sarasota, Fla., with field stations in eastern Sarasota County, Charlotte Harbor and the Florida Keys. Mote is dedicated to today’s research for tomorrow’s oceans with an emphasis on world-class research relevant to conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity, healthy habitats and natural resources. Research programs include studies of human cancer using marine models, the effects of man-made and natural toxins on humans and on the environment, the health of wild fisheries, developing sustainable and successful fish restocking techniques and food production technologies and the development of ocean technology to help us better understand the health of the environment. Mote research programs also focus on understanding the population dynamics of manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks and coral reefs and on conservation and restoration efforts related to these species and ecosystems. Mote’s vision includes positively impacting public policy through science-based outreach and education. Showcasing this research is The Aquarium at Mote, open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 365 days a year.
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