By Kelly Alvarado and Rabia Gursoy
Some 80 sea turtles, double the amount from last year, were rescued between November and February on the coast of Long Island during the peak of the cold-stun season, thanks to an increased number of volunteers at the New York Marine Rescue Center.
The record number of rescues can be attributed to a vigorous outreach campaign led by the NY State Emergency Cold Stun Response Team, which consisted of signs posted on local beaches and an active social media presence.
“The Center attracts volunteers through our social media pages, talking to patrons who walk through our Rescue Center located inside on the Long Island Aquarium, and by attending fairs and events,” Nicole Valenti, educator and volunteer coordinator at the Marine Rescue Center said.
The number of calls and volunteers doubled since last year. This helped volunteers and the community to get involved in patrolling the beaches during critical periods for sea turtles
“We had many calls this season from those who said they called because they saw the sign when they got to the beach,” Valenti said.
Sea turtles are found in a cold-stunned state which is when the turtle is too cold to eat, drink or swim. The drop-in water temperature below 55 degrees decreases the sea turtles’ heart rate and hinders proper migration. Depending on the severity, it could also lead to death.
“We grab a blood sample as soon as the turtle comes in, so we can see the turtle’s body condition. Based on this, we monitor the body temperature and start the warming process,” Sadie Logozio, a stranding technician, said.
The sea turtles rescued this year are named after types of pasta. Cavatappi, one among the eighty rescued on Long Island, is currently in rehabilitation after being saved by volunteers.
“She was on her back, she was cold-stunned and was entangled,” Logozio said.
The rescue center’s immediate response to the volunteers’ rescue call helped save Cavatappi. The team went out to Montauk to bring her back to the center where they first disentangled her and cleaned out her wounds. Then, throughout the day started to warm her, Logozio explained.
The rescue center has had uptake in the number of candidates for their March volunteer orientation as well as a surge in applicants overall this year.
“Volunteers go out and walk the beaches for us and actually 16 of our sea turtles this year were rescued by our volunteers throughout that program,” Danielle Perillo, director of administration and development at the center, said.
Volunteers sign up to patrol beaches according to their own schedules. They take seminars held during March and September. Once a volunteer completes 50 hours on the floor, they are able to apply to work at the hospital section.
“There are a lot of people that volunteer, and I enjoy my time here,” Briana Milone, a volunteer at the Marine Rescue Center, said.
The center has a room similar to a doctor’s clinic where sea turtles are taken into and treated by trained volunteers. Depending on their status of health, some sea turtles remain as residents for months while some stay only for a couple of weeks.
“We aim is to get them any help that they need and then release them when they are capable of taking care of themselves,” Logozio said.
The Marine Rescue Center is looking for ways to attract more volunteers through social media, Valenti mentioned.
“I didn’t even know Long Island had sea turtles and maybe presentations could be made in schools to get the word about the marine center volunteer opportunity out there,” Jennifer Koo, a visitor at the Long Island aquarium said.