Scottie the turtle is free at last.
The endangered green turtle that drifted into cold Nova Scotia waters and was found hypothermic on a local beach late last year has been released into a warm bay in Bermuda after being reared back to health.
The juvenile turtle was being taken care of by staff at the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo in Flatts Village since arriving there in late November, thanks to the help of a team of veterinarians, government officials, a conservation group and a Canadian airline.
Scottie — who put on 0.5 kilograms while at the aquarium — was placed in a shallow bay full of seagrass in the aptly named Turtle Cove, where she swam straight into a small beach and had to be turned around by staff before swimming off into deeper waters.
"It's really so gratifying to see Scottie released and back in the wild!" says Dalhousie veterinarian Chris Harvey-Clark, who was instrumental in caring for Scottie after she was scooped up off the beach in Scots Bay and tended to around the clock in Dr. Harvey-Clark's basement.
"This was a real team effort and I have said before, it takes a village to save a turtle. These cold-stranded turtles are usually nearly dead when we get them and it's a rarity to have one survive."
The path to recovery
Scottie was rehabilitated for weeks by aquarium staff, who administered antibiotics after she developed skin lesions much like frostbite. Despite losing the tip of a front flipper, one of his caregivers said, "Scottie kept a good appetite and was quite feisty.”
That was not the case when the three-to-five-year-old turtle was found cold and motionless by a couple walking the beach. Marine animal experts were called in to retrieve Scottie, who was hypothermic, showing some slight voluntary movements, depressed and sluggish. Dr. Harvey-Clark and his wife, veterinarian Dr. Pat Pryor, set up a makeshift turtle sanctuary in their bathroom, decking it out with an inflatable green kid's pool and a 68-litre plastic tote — called a drydock — for Scottie to calm down and rest.
Kathleen Martin of the Canadian Sea Turtle Network (CSTN) was also a key part of the team caring for Scottie, who was flown to Bermuda after several permits were obtained and the airline offered to take her.
"It's a great ending and we're so happy about it!" she says. "There were so many things that can go wrong, so the idea that she was there, had excellent veterinary care and was treated so well and was well enough to go is really such a win!"
A glimmer of good news
For Martin, it's a rare bit of good news. Her group dealt with 15 stranded turtles last year, 14 of which died.
"To have that one that made it is just such a big deal," she says. "They're just such a vulnerable species."
Dr. Harvey-Clark agrees, saying there is good reason to go to these lengths to help one small turtle.
"Some might think dozens of people spending all this time and energy to save a turtle is not justifiable," he says.
"Scottie is at the tip of the ecological spear for endangered species; she is a survivor and at this point in her life cycle, she represents the lives of hundreds of turtles that didn’t make it off the nesting beaches, and the wall of death that surrounds them in terms of predators, fisheries bycatch, pollution and many other causes of mortality. If she makes it to maturity and breeding age, the good genes that helped her survive will be carried on and will strengthen her species as it copes with the future uncertainties in a warming ocean."
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