The Lost Years
Photo/Text by Donna Malloy
Full Circle. The hands that rescued "Bruno" now release a young, healthy Kemp's Ridley turtle back into the wild. Pictured are rescuer Bruno Falkenstein gently handing Bruno over to Danielle O'Neill, Director of the Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Program at CMA.
The first seven to eight years of a turtle's life are called "the lost years," according to Danielle O'Neill, Director of the Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Program at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA). That's because little is known about their behavior in their early years. And that's about the age "Bruno" was when his rescuer, Bruno Falkenstein, found him on St. Petersburg Beach in May 2008 with minor abrasions on one flipper and under his beak, due to a crab trap line. The Kemp's Ridley sea turtle was taken to CMA by his rescuer to be nursed back to health and ultimately be released back into his natural habitat once he was healthy.
Joining Bruno on their day of release were two young Green sea turtles; "Devin" and "Frosty." Devin was found 12 miles offshore of Hernando Beach in January 2008 with possible "cold stun" as was Frosty, who was found near the Dunedin Causeway in January 2008. "Cold stun" occurs when a young turtle becomes inert due to the frigid temperature of the water.
Since 2002, Clearwater Marine Aquarium has released 139 sea turtles. Last year alone, CMA rescued 79 sea turtles, rehabilitated 27 and released 18 of them. CMA is currently home to over 20 turtles, including four different species (Loggerhead, Kemp's Ridley, Green and Hawksbill). The Kemp's Ridley is the most endangered of all sea turtles.
For the last thirty years, Bruno Falkenstein has also been rescuing injured sea turtles. But not all rescues have a happy end. According to Falkenstein, of the "300 or so turtles that I found, only four have been saved. Most of the turtles were already dead."
Falkenstein owns and operates the famous Hurricane Restaurant on Pass-a-Grille Beach. "I'm supposed to be at the restaurant right now, but I'm able to be here because my brother is managing the restaurant while I release Bruno. Behind every rescuer is a supportive family and friends" Bruno is quick to add. It takes a village you might say.
How do you help a turtle in trouble? "The first thing you do is cover the turtle in a damp cloth and cover his eyes to calm him down" advises Falkenstein. "Then call either CMA at 727-441-1790 or the Florida Wildlife Commission at 800-955-8771 if the turtle is not found in this area."
One by one the turtles are gently released into the calm waters of St. Joseph's Sound. The turtles must be released near their point of rescue. "If a turtle was found in Georgia, we need to return to Georgia to release it" stated David Yates, Chief Executive Office for CMA.
Frolicking like children, Bruno and Frosty reunite in the nutrient rich waters of St. Joseph Sound. The young turtles will feed on shellfish and crabs, but eventually, the Green turtles will become "mainly vegetarian," according to O'Neill.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a Florida non-profit 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to marine life rescue, rehabilitation and release, and environmental education. CMA also oversees sea turtle nesting on Pinellas County beaches, locating and protecting nests and ensuring the hatchlings make their way into the ocean. Sea turtle nesting season runs each year from May through October. So far this season, 108 nests have been located in Pinellas County. So far this season, 108 nests have been located in Pinellas County. For further information and to volunteer, call CMA at 727-441-1790.
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