Florida Keys News
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
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Charley the sea turtle hitches the ride of a lifetime in the Gulf Stream

A juvenile loggerhead sea turtle is on the path to recovery, after being rescued in the Gulf Stream off Grassy Key, following its release off Colombia last June.

The nearly 6-pound turtle, nicknamed "Charley," was found by a fisherman floating in a sargassum weed patch last week about 22 miles offshore. The fisherman brought the little turtle to shore, and it was later taken to the Marathon Turtle Hospital.

Plastic was found in the turtle's feces and hospital officials believe this is the reason why it was ill and floating. Plastic causes a blockage and the turtles fill up with air and float to the surface. The blockage prevents them from diving, said Bette Zirkelbach, manager of the Turtle Hospital.

It is not uncommon for loggerheads to swallow plastic as it can look like jellyfish and other marine life turtles eat. The Turtle Hospital is treating three other turtles with the same condition as Charley, Zirkelbach said. All have been brought to the hospital within the last week.

Charley traveled in the Gulf Stream nearly 2,000 miles from its original release point off Santa Marta, Colombia on June 8.

Hospital staff was able to identify the turtle through a metal identification tag on its flipper.

Charley, now nearly 2 years old, had been raised from a hatchling as part of a sea turtle cooperative program between Colombia's Jorge Tadeo Lozano University and the Mundo Marino Aquarium.

"They get in the Gulf Stream and it is like a conveyer belt," Zirkelbach explained.

In its recuperations, the turtle has already begun to dive. Zirkelbach hopes to release Charley back into the wild in the Gulf Stream within the next few weeks.

"His prognosis is good," Zirkelbach said.

In another unrelated turtle incident, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) officers arrested a man on suspicion of killing a green turtle, which is on the Endangered Species List.

A citizen called the FWC after witnesses spotted a person, later identified as Victor Martin Alvarez of Miami, at Curry Hammock State Park near Marathon capture a sea turtle from the beach and put it in his cooler.

FWC questioned witnesses, who gave a description of the suspect. The FWC officer searched and located Alvarez, who was still in the park, according to FWC spokesman Bob Dube.

Alvarez admitted that he killed the turtle, Dube said. Witnesses told FWC the turtle was alive when it was placed in the cooler.

Alvarez was booked into the Monroe County Jail in Marathon for felony violation of the Marine Turtle Protection Act.

tohara@keysnews.com

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