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Visit Mote to track turtles at new exhibit

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  • | 4:00 a.m. June 4, 2009
  • Longboat Key
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Now is a wonderful time to visit Mote Marine Aquarium and check out the new sea-turtle exhibit, the Roy and Susan Palmer Sea Turtle Center, made possible through a gift from Penelope Kingman, in honor of Barry Kingman.

Sea turtles enjoy our fascination and respect because they are ancient survivors. The first sea turtle goes back 210 million years! In some cultures, the sea turtle is the symbol of longevity. And, best of all, this is a special time when sea turtles come up onto our own beaches and deposit many clutches of eggs so that these amazing animals can continue on for the future.

The various Turtle Watch groups (voluntary) that work under the direction of Mote’s scientists monitor these nests, so that a maximum number of hatchlings will survive and begin their arduous journey to maturity. The female that is hatched here will return here to lay her own eggs in 30-some years. Is that amazing or what?

At the exhibit, the first turtle you see is our old friend, Hang Tough, who is now encased in a colorful new aquarium. Even though he is blind, I think he feels the beauty of his new surroundings and dearly loves his new environment. Hang Tough is a green sea turtle that came to Mote’s hospital in 1992 with severe head injuries. Despite treatment, he is blind and could not survive in the wild, but it is clear that he much enjoys his new environment.

Another new attraction is the ability for visitors to track turtles at sea. Mote researchers do just that via satellite transmitters attached to a turtle’s shell. It switches on when the turtle surfaces to breathe and sends a signal to an orbiting satellite. Find out about Thunder. She set a record in 2008, nesting eight times on Casey Key last year. Check out three others and what makes them notable.

Because we care so deeply about these wonderful animals, emergency action has been taken to protect threatened and endangered sea turtles. The National Marine Fisheries Service has ordered a six month emergency closure of the bottom of the long-line fishery in the Gulf of Mexico to protect sea turtles from capture and death. The service’s data indicates the capture of more than eight times the number of sea turtles it authorized in its 2005 biological opinion. Off the west coast of Florida, loggerhead turtles have been dying in increasing numbers, accidentally caught up in long-line fishing gear. This temporary closure gives the turtles a reprieve and gives the agency time to make scientifically sound decisions regarding the longterm operation of the fishery. We’ll keep you posted.

Also, in the May 2009 issue of National Geographic, there is an outstanding piece on the leatherback turtle, the largest of all sea turtles.

Virginia Sanders is the spokesperson for the Longboat Key Turtle Conservation Program, serves on the Citizens Advisory Board of the National Estuary Program and is a Mote Marine volunteer.