Sarasota Police Help Mote Release Sea Turtle Hatchlings

Mote Marine Laboratory offers a big "thanks" to the Sarasota Police Department for helping Mote scientists release two of the last loggerhead turtle hatchlings rescued during the 2014 sea turtle nesting season.

On Oct. 30, Sarasota Police Marine Patrol Officer Bruce King and Officer Travis Forrister traveled with Mote Staff Biologist Karen Schanzle to release the two hatchlings into the Gulf of Mexico. The officers provided boat transport, as Mote is replacing its research vessel that normally transports hatchlings to the weed line — a floating mat of seaweed called Sargassum, usually located many miles offshore, where hatchlings can find shelter and food.

During the 2014 nesting season, May 1-Oct. 31, Mote Marine Laboratory’s Hatchling Hospital received more than 2,600 hatchlings. More than 200 of those needed to receive hospital care for an extended period of time to recover from any injuries and regain their strength. These included the two turtles released on Oct. 30.

One of the hatchlings was rescued from a nest damaged by raccoons on Casey Key, while the other was brought to Mote after being found in a parking lot near Barefoot Beach in Collier County. The second turtle appeared to have disoriented — wandered away from the sea due to artificial lights visible from the beach. Sea turtle hatchlings head toward the brightest horizon to find the sea, but manmade lighting can draw them toward danger instead. Thanks to Mote's hospital care, both turtles now have a second chance to thrive in the wild.

The joint release highlights the important ways that law enforcement officers can work together with marine science and conservation professionals for the benefit of marine animals.

“Having our friends from Mote Marine Laboratory on the water is critical for me," said Officer Bruce King from the Sarasota Police Department Marine Patrol Unit. "To have another set of eyes and ears out there to tell me what is going on is great. When I stumble across something, like an injured animal, and I need help, I have a direct contact.”

“We are very grateful to Officer King and Officer Forrister for stepping up to help these hatchlings,” said Holly West, Sea Turtle Care Coordinator at Mote, who oversees the care of sea turtles in Mote’s public Aquarium, including the Hatchling Hospital. “With a record number of hatchling patients this year, we’ve been working hard to help them recover and return to the wild quickly. This mission becomes so much easier with the support of caring people in our community.”

Mote also thanks the Kukanza Family and the Longboat Key Turtle Watch for their generous support of the Hatchling Hospital.

Sea turtles are protected under federal law and any harassment or interference with a sea turtle, living or dead, is subject to penalty. If you witness anyone disturbing a turtle or find an injured or disoriented hatchling or adult, please notify agents with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922), local law enforcement and/or Mote Marine Laboratory’s Sea Turtle Program at 941-388-4331. If you find a dead or injured sea turtle, contact Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program at 941-988-0212.                         

Karen Schanzle of Mote Marine Laboratory holds a hatchling ready for release beside Officer Travis Forrister of the Sarasota Police Department. 
(Credit: Sarasota Police Department)
Officer Forrister and Officer Bruce King provided boat transport to release these two hatchlings offshore. (Credit: Sarasota Police Department)
Two sea turtle hatchlings are ready to return to the wild on Oct. 30 after being rehabilitated at Mote Marine Laboratory.