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Recent Grants Supporting Sea Turtle Conservation

June 20, 2024

Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network partners leverage National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grants to improve their sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation efforts across the country.

A turtle with a tracker installed The Aquarium of the Pacific released a green sea turtle in May 2024 after months of care and rehabilitation at its facility. Credit: Aquarium of the Pacific, taken under Fish and Wildlife Service Permit #: FWS/R8/ES/SeaTurtle/DesignatedAgentLetter 5/3/24.

In March 2024, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation announced new grant recipients awarded through their Sea Turtles Program. This is a partnership between NFWF, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and NOAA. It is one of the longest running programs at NFWF, with investments dating back more than three decades. It supports conservation capacity and threat reduction across regional networks. The Foundation has invested more than $3.4 million in awards through the program in just the past 5 years. 

This year, the program awarded grants to organizations in the United States and its territories who provide stranding response and/or rehabilitate sick or injured sea turtles. Sea turtles face numerous threats, including:

  • Habitat degradation due to climate change
  • Disease and illness
  • Entanglement and ingestion of marine debris
  • Vessel strikes and fisheries interactions

These funds will be used to help our stranding network partners improve their ability to respond to and rehabilitate stranded and injured sea turtles. 

Greater Atlantic Region: Mass Audubon

a volunteer rescuing a kemp ridley sea turtle
Mass Audubon volunteer rescuing a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. Credit: Andrea Spence, taken under Permit #ES60415D.

Every year, Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary rescues hundreds of cold-stunned sea turtles. They wash ashore along Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts beaches in the late fall and early winter. Up to 90 percent of these cold-stunned turtles are endangered juvenile Kemp’s ridleys; others include subadult loggerheads and juvenile green sea turtles. Staff process, assess, and stabilize the temperatures of rescued sea turtles. Then, they transport them to local rehabilitation facilities such as the New England Aquarium’s Animal Care Center and the National Marine Life Center.

“Many variables which affect the number and timing of cold-stunned sea turtles landing on our beaches are beyond our control. One we can control, however, is the speed and efficiency with which Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay staff and trained volunteers find and rescue these cold-stunned turtles. Especially on days or nights with low air temperatures, rescue timing can mean the difference between life and death, or at least support better health outcomes, for these federally listed endangered and threatened sea turtles laying immobilized on cold, windy beaches,” said Karen Moore Dourdeville, Mass Audubon, Cape Cod, Sea Turtle Research Coordinator. “We are very grateful for the NFWF funding, made possible with support from NOAA, to help us increase our rescue speed and efficiency. The resources generated through this grant provide us with capabilities including: assigning more beach patrols at off-high-tide times, removing cold stuns more quickly from beaches by positioning staff near likely stranding locations, more quickly processing, temperature-stabilizing and moving these cold-stunned sea turtles to rehab.” 

processing cold-stunned loggerhead turtles
Staff assess and temperature stabilize rescued turtles at Wellfleet Bay. Credit: Mass Audubon, taken under Permit #ES60415D.

Southeast Region: Brevard Zoo Sea Turtle Healing Center

Dr and his team working on a sea turtle
Dr. Zachariah and his team treating a sea turtle with fibropapilloma tumors using a new carbon dioxide laser (thin blue arm) and smoke evacuation system (thick white arm) for the first time. Credit: Brevard Zoo, taken under Permit #: MTP-24-206.

The Brevard Zoo Sea Turtle Healing Center treats sick and injured sea turtles, including those with fibropapillomatosis. This virus causes tumors to grow externally and internally; turtles with severe tumor loads can become debilitated or die. The Healing Center helps treat about a hundred patients every year. 

“Here at Brevard Zoo’s Sea Turtle Healing Center, we are dedicated to rehabilitating and releasing Florida sea turtles with life-threatening injuries or illness, such as the deadly fibropapillomatosis, a tumor-causing virus,” said Dr. Trevor Zachariah, Director of Veterinary Programs. “Being one of just a handful of facilities in the state that can treat fibropapillomatosis-positive sea turtles, we have been able to significantly advance our care for turtles with this condition through the purchase of a carbon dioxide laser thanks to NFWF’s grant program.”

West Coast Region: Aquarium of the Pacific

doctor and his team removing a hook from green sea turtle
Aquarium of the Pacific Veterinarian Dr. Lance Adams and members of the veterinary team perform a surgery to remove a fishing hook found in a rescued sea turtle. Credit: Aquarium of the Pacific, taken under NOAA Fisheries Letter of Authorization 12/22/2000.

Since 2000, the Aquarium of the Pacific has provided medical care, surgery, and rehabilitation for stranded and injured sea turtles rescued from the shorelines of Southern California. Many of these sea turtle patients have been released back into the ocean. Some have been fitted with satellite tracking devices that allow scientists to track their migration patterns and habitats. 

“We are grateful for the opportunity to help wildlife impacted by natural and human causes, and it is very fulfilling providing them a second chance at life in the ocean,” said Dr. Lance Adams, Aquarium of the Pacific veterinarian.

aquarium staff helping a green sea turtle to go back in the water
Aquarium of the Pacific staff released a green sea turtle in September 2016 after the institution rehabilitated the rescued animal. The green sea turtle returned to the marine environment with the help of the aquarium, NOAA, and Harbor Breeze Cruises. Credit: Aquarium of the Pacific,taken under NOAA Fisheries Letter of Authorization 12/22/2000.

“The Aquarium of the Pacific is proud to partner with NOAA and NFWF by helping these threatened and endangered animals through our sea turtle rehabilitation program. The funds from the grant will enable us to build a designated sea turtle housing system, which will double the capacity of stranded sea turtles we can help rehabilitate to give them a chance of returning to the wild,” said Dr. Adams.

Pacific Islands Region: Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response

team responding to an injured sea turtle on the beach
An HMAR team responds to an injured sea turtle on a beach in Hawaiʻi. Credit: Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response, conducted under 50 CFR 222.310.

Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response (HMAR) is opening a full-time sea turtle emergency care and rehabilitation facility on Oʻahu this summer in collaboration with Hawaiʻi Pacific University. NOAA funds awarded through the NFWF Sea Turtles program helped to accelerate completion of the Care Center, which is 5 years in the making. This new facility will be the second of its kind in Hawaiʻi, and the first non-profit sea turtle rehabilitation center on Oʻahu. 

Prior to opening this facility, NOAA carried out sea turtle treatment and rehabilitation on O‘ahu. These activities are gradually shifting to non-profit partners across the state, indicating a new phase of emergency response and treatment that will add value to sea turtle conservation.

Approximately 75 percent of the state’s sea turtle emergencies are reported on Oʻahu annually. Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response’s Care Center on Oʻahu will help build capacity on the island. This will allow responders to act efficiently and play an important role in sea turtle conservation and protection. 

HMAR team rescuing a sea turtle
Trained HMAR staff treat a rescued sea turtle. Credit: Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response, conducted under 50 CFR 222.310.

“Since our start, Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response has continued to expand and grow our positive impact on the conservation of Hawaiʻi marine protected animals and the oceans,” said Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response’s founder and president, Jon Gelman. “Our dedicated volunteers, interns, and staff will be honored to provide emergency care and rehabilitation services for Hawaiʻi sea turtles,” he added. “We look forward to providing the resources and medical support to help save these vulnerable animals.”

Last updated by Office of Protected Resources on June 21, 2024