15 Sea Turtles Rescued From Hurricane Ian Released Into the Wild in the Florida Keys

by Taylor Cunningham
Credit: Molly-Ann Basterfield

Fifteen tiny sea turtles are now back in the wild after being rescued from Hurricane Ian in September.

When the Category 5 storm hit the Florida coast on Sept. 29, many young sea turtles were either washed ashore or injured. In the days following, residents found the animals caught up in debris or dehydrated from being on land too long.

A green sea turtle hatchling named Ian, after the storm, was among those rescued turtles. A family found him buried in seaweed on their boat ramp in the Floria Keys, which was hit with tropical storm winds.

Ian joined over a dozen other young sea turtles at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon where specially trained staff nursed him back to health.

Bette Zirkelbach, the hospital’s manager, shared that Ian and the others went back into the Gulf Stream waters this week.

“He’s fine,” Zirkelback told the Florida Keys News Bureau. ” He’s eating well and swimming well, and he’s ready to go back to sea.”

Members of a powerboat racing team gave the turtles a ride to a sargassum weed line about 20 miles off Key West in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The team drove a 39-foot TS Motorsports MTI powerboat it’s using in the Race World Offshore’s Key West World Championship.

Once the boat reached its destination, hospital staff members carefully placed the animals onto thick patches of sea vegetation. Sargassum camouflages the young turtles while they grow, which gives them a better chance of surviving predators.

Florida Zoo Takes in 200 Sea Turtles Following Hurricane Ian

The Brevard Zoo in Melbourne Florida, which is closer to the worst-hit areas along the coastline, also jumped into action after Hurricane Ian ripped through the state.

By October 3rd, zoo officials announced that more than 200 sea turtles were being cared for in its Sea Turtle Healing Center.

Because it’s common for coastal storms to wash the creatures ashore, the zoo was ready for an influx of patients. When each turtle came in, staff categorized them by size. Animals under 5 centimeters long are “hatchlings,” and larger turtles are “post-hatchlings.”

Vets were also on hand to immediately treat injuries.

“The healthy turtles get situated in a tank outfitted with special enrichment items that allow them to comfortably float. Although many spend their time whizzing around the tank.” officials said. “They’re fed lettuce and a mashed-up mixture of fish, shrimp, and clams. [It’s] likely their first meal since eating their egg’s yolk.”

The animals will stay in the rehabilitation center until vets believe they’re healthy enough to go back into the wild.