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Sea turtles: Rare species strands at DeBordieu

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

A Kemp’s ridley sea turtle was found stranded on DeBordieu Beach on Friday morning and taken to the S.C. Sea Turtle Hospital.

Named Little Debbie, she has been diagnosed with severe pneumonia and a fractured right humerus.

“The prognosis is very poor. Pneumonia of any significance is very difficult to reverse,” said Beth Nathan, public relations manager for the S.C. Aquarium, where the hospital is located.

The hospital staff is hopeful, however, as they were uncertain Little Debbie would even survive the trip to the aquarium in Charleston.

The turtle was found in front of the sea wall area on DeBordieu Beach by a volunteer with S.C. United Turtle Enthusiasts. The group patrols the beaches during sea turtle nesting season, looking for turtle tracks, which lead them to new nests.

The turtle was stranded overnight before being discovered, said Betsy Brabson, a member of the group. She and other volunteers were called in immediately after it was spotted, lying on its back.

“Originally, we thought she was dead, she was so lethargic,” Brabson said.

The sea turtle hospital was notified and Brabson and her husband, Bill, were asked to transport the turtle as far as McClellanville.

“We were instructed to hose her off with fresh water and put wet towels on her to keep her hydrated,” Betsy said. “That’s when she started moving.”

Little Debbie was then loaded into the back of the Brabsons’ car. It was a drive Betsy said she won’t forget.

“We were just glad to hand her off and that she made it that far,” she said.

In McClellanville, Little Debbie was handed over to an official with the state Department of Natural Resources, who took her the rest of the way to the hospital.

Upon her arrival, Little Debbie immediately started receiving “fluid and vitamin therapy,” as well as antibiotic injections. She is recuperating on a wet foam pad, because she is too weak to be put in a pool of water, according to hospital reports.

A critically endangered species, Kemp’s ridleys are the smallest species of sea turtle. Weighing in at 26 pounds, Little Debbie is one of the largest Kemp’s ridleys the hospital has treated.

Because of their limited numbers and the fact that they don’t usually nest on the east coast, Kemp’s ridleys are a rare sight in South Carolina. A Kemp’s ridley nest was laid in Litchfield last year, however.

Another turtle found stranded on DeBordieu Beach by SCUTE volunteers was released back into the wild in May after a 22-month stay at the hospital. That turtle, known as Deb, was a 320-pound loggerhead.

To celebrate Deb’s release, the Nature Enthusiasts Club at DeBordieu, with help from SCUTE, launched a fund-raiser last month to raise money to buy a radiography machine for the hospital.

With the addition to its staff of a full-time veterinarian, Shane Boylan, the machine is the final thing the hospital needs to perform all procedures on site, making life much easier for the staff and the sea turtles recovering at the facility.

The club’s goal was to raise $12,000 to purchase a used machine. But the fund-raiser was more successful than anyone expected, bringing in more than $20,000.

“It’s unbelievable,” Nathan said. “We’re all quite thrilled and it puts us in a really unique situation. We can now go beyond the original machine we were looking at.”

The hospital planned to purchase a used film radiography machine that would satisfy its immediate needs, but is now looking at a new digital machine with a warranty.

“Imagine the difference between a cell phone camera and a digital camera and you’ll have an idea of the quality difference we’re talking about here,” Nathan said.

“A digital radiography machine doubles our ability and allows us not to use film. That’s good from a green perspective, but will also save staff time and we won’t have to finance space for a dark room. This is really a dream come true for our team.”

Ordinarily, such a machine would cost about $100,000, but the hospital started negotiations with a vendor that is offering a digital machine, computer and all associated software for $35,000.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for us that warrants further investigation which is what we are doing now – as quickly as possible,” said Kelly Thorvalson, coordinator for the Sea Turtle Rescue Program.

This type of machine wouldn’t have been a possibility for the hospital without the generosity of turtle lovers on Waccamaw Neck, she said.

Donations to the hospital can be made online at Behind the scenes tours are also available. For information, call (843) 577-3474.

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