75.7 F
Cruz Bay
Saturday, January 28, 2023



Sept. 9, 2001 – Senior staffers at St. Thomas's Coral World Marine Park dropped everything recently to accommodate three new arrivals in desperate need of help after being rescued by National Park Service biologists from the Buck Island Reef Monument off St. Croix.
The three green sea turtle hatchlings were in danger of "death from dehydration, starvation or being eaten by predators" according to Coral World curator Donna Nemeth.
Because of their diminished numbers, Nemeth says, green sea turtles are a "threatened species" on the federal endangered species list. As such, they are protected by federal law, and it is illegal to possess them unless you have a permit.
Coral World is licensed by the Fish and Wildlife Division of the Planning and Natural Resources Department as a rehabilitation station for all species of endangered sea turtles, and it holds a permit to raise rescued green sea turtle hatchlings for eventual release back into the wild as adults.
Nemeth flew to St. Croix on Aug. 30 — with a ticket donated to the rescue effort by Seaborne Airlines — to escort the three tiny hatchlings to the safety of their new home at Coral World. Now, she reports, all three are doing well under the watchful eye of senior aquarist Andrea Stephens, "who has lots of experience monitoring green turtle health" using sophisticated techniques developed while she was previously working at the South Carolina Aquarium.
Nemeth and Stephens agree that the hatchlings' chances of survival at Coral World are "excellent." Such was not the case when they were discovered by National Park personnel a week and a half ago.
Nemeth explains the hard facts of green sea turtle life: After hatching on Aug. 28 from among a hundred or so eggs that had been buried together by their mother, she says, the three tiny hatchlings "did not or could not emerge" from their nest with the rest of their siblings. "They were the runts, or they were the weakest," she theorizes.
And yet, "other than the fact that they didn't get out" until National Park personnel checked the nest site for stragglers, "all three were healthy." Still, as newborn sea turtles, they were in a life-threatening situation. Wildlife managers call it a "non-primary emergence situation," and, Nemeth says, that constitutes the condition under which Coral World is permitted to "retain green sea turtle hatchlings."
Nemeth puts the situation in perspective thus: "If Coral World did not exist, and the National Park Service found these turtles on the beach, they would pick them up and carry them to the water and set them free. But their chances for survival are pretty darn low. They lose that safety-in-numbers factor that they have when all 100 or so siblings emerge from the nest together and hurry into the sea. If you put only three out there, they stick out like sore thumbs and usually fall prey to predators."
According to Nemeth, the rescue of the turtles was the highlight of her week. "After four years, our six adult green sea turtles are getting a little big for their saltwater pool," she notes. "They came to us under the same circumstances as these new ones. Soon they will be tagged and released. During their tenure, though, we have been able to educate visitors about the lives of endangered sea turtles and the many perils they face."
Greens turtles, who are actually born blackish in color on top, changing to dark mottled brown with age, got their name from long-ago turtle hunters who observed that "their meat is green," according to Stephens.
Although they can grow to weigh several hundred pounds, they are vegetarians as adults and "have very different dietary requirements from other turtles," Nemeth says, so in captivity the young turtles are fed a diet of herbivore gelatin and fresh collard greens as an alternate to native sea "turtle" grass. However, she adds, wild green sea turtles inadvertently become omnivores, eating an assortment of invertebrates that are attached to turtle grass. So, at Coral World, their diet is supplemented with chopped whiting and herring.
The new arrivals will probably go on exhibit in October in the Marine Gardens building, Nemeth said, and will then be moved to the larger Turtle Pool in about six months. And then? "As they outgrow the outside Turtle Pool, they are destined to be released back into the ocean," she said. "We want to make sure that they go out in the healthiest condition possible."

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Keeping our community informed is our top priority.
If you have a news tip to share, please call or text us at 340-228-8784.

Support local + independent journalism in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Unlike many news organizations, we haven't put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as accessible as we can. Our independent journalism costs time, money and hard work to keep you informed, but we do it because we believe that it matters. We know that informed communities are empowered ones. If you appreciate our reporting and want to help make our future more secure, please consider donating.