Routine turtle rescue becomes Thanksgiving mission

Pilot Bob Tingley prepares to take off with 30 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles as part of a rescue operation by the organization Turtles Fly Too. Credit: Turtles Fly Too via Facebook

Thirty Kemp’s ridley sea turtles were on the back to the sea — by air — when the rescue mission hit a few snags. Flying on the day before Thanksgiving, the plane met fierce headwinds, then a line of storms. On a fuel stop in Chattanooga, Tennessee, a rock damaged the plane’s propeller, leaving the plane grounded.

The endangered turtles, which had washed up on the shores of Cape Cod after being cold-stunned by low water temperatures, were stuck again.

“It was just one thing after another,” rescuer Jessica Regnante, a volunteer with Turtles Fly Too, told the New York Times.

The organization was transporting the Kemp’s ridley turtles (Lepidochelys kempii) to warmer waters off the coast of New Orleans, where they could be rehabilitated and returned to the ocean. Stuck in Tennessee, the rescue team called for help. The Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga responded with heated vans to drive the turtles to the aquarium, where they spent the night before rescuers drove them to their destination — the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans. The turtles are being rehabilitated there before they are returned to the ocean.

“It was an amazing rallying of support,” Kate Sampson, a coordinator with the National Marine Fisheries Service who helped in the operation, told the Times.

Read more in the New York Times.