On Friday June 25th three IDEAS team members had the opportunity to assist inone of the first relocations of sea turtles from the Gulf Coast Oil Spill to Sea World and Walt Disney World.
The process really began on Thursday June 17th when Anderson Cooper on CNN’s AC360 followed the rescues of sea turtles covered in oil to the Audubon Nature Institute rescue center in Gulf Port Louisiana (www.auduboninstitute.org). In one of AC360’s segments they stated the facility was running out of space and tanks to take in more turtles (interview can be found at: http://www.cnn.com/video/#/video/us/2010/06/30/ac.cooper.turtle.rescue.cnn?iref=allsearch).
That evening Julie Roberts, on our sales team in Tallahassee, Charles Moore and millions of others around the world watched and wondered what could be done to assist with the rescue, cleanup and release of these nearly extinct animals. Charles thought to himself, “could Sea World and Disney’s Animal Kingdom help with this issue.”
Julie, on the other hand, had the same thought and started to do something about it the very next day. She contacted Sea World and Disney and found out that they wanted to help in the Sea Turtle rescue but a mix of government and corporate red tape was slowing everything down. By Sunday Julie contacted our CEO Phil Ruggieri to see if his contacts at the two theme parks could assist in getting around the red tape. Now Phil was in the game too. A couple phone calls and calling in some favors later, Sea World and Disney were on board and transportation was set up through Phil’s friend John Houghtaling.
It took a few more days to figure out the logistics and for each park to make room for the turtles. During this time Julie also contacted her friend, Fabien Cousteau, with Plant a Fish to observe the Sea Turtles transport.
June 25th was the big day. At 1:30 PM, Fabien, Julie, Phil, and Charles, with Sea World and Disney World animal care teams along with every news outlet in Central Florida, arrived at Orlando Executive Airport, waiting for 9 turtles, 7 for Sea World and 2 for Disney World to arrive.
The turtles arrived on a private plane donated by Phil’s friend John Houghtaling. On the tarmac each turtle was removed from the Audubon Nature Institute’s transport containers to new ones. They appeared a little dry from the 2 ½ hour flight but overall were in good shape. As Vet’s picked them up they flapped their flippers seemly on cue for the news media. Within an hour the turtles were on their way to their temporary homes.
Fabien, Julie, Phil and Charles followed one of the rescue vehicles to Sea World. Backstage they have an area designed to treat and rehabilitate rescued animals. Each turtle was carefully checked out by veterinarians before being placed into large tanks with circulating salt water.
Once all the turtles were examined and secure in their rehabilitation tanks the group was given a tour of their animal care facilities. Around 5:00 that afternoon Fabien, Julie and Charles left Sea World and headed over to the Living Seas at Disney’s EPCOT. The two turtles at Disney were first checked out at the by Animal Kingdom veterinary care facility. Then they were transported to a backstage animal rehabilitation area behind the Living Seas at EPCOT. In addition to confirming the turtles were in good care Charles, Julie and Fabien were given a backstage tour the Living Seas.
Some of the turtles will be ready for release back into the wild with in a few weeks. A few others with fishing hook injuries may need to remain under observation and antibiotics for a few months. The release dates and location will be determined by the state Fish and Wildlife agency. Normally they try to release Sea Turtles as close to the point of capture as possible, as they mate and lay eggs on beaches within a few miles of where they were hatched themselves. However, the beaches they hatched from are now threatened or covered with oil. At this time it is unknown what will happen if they are released on Florida beaches.
This was one of the most fulfilling experiences we have been involved with and it is something we are very proud to have been a part of.