LOWER TOWNSHIP – The Cape May-Lewes Ferry gave a ride toward warmer water to two endangered turtles on Sunday, Oct. 11.
Troy Platt with the Marine Mammal Stranding Center in Brigantine was transporting a young Kemp’s Ridley turtle and a young Green Sea Turtle south toward warmer water on the ferry. Both turtle species are endangered.
“This time of year, it’s critical to the turtles’ survival that they move to warmer water,” said Bob Schoelkopf, founding director of the Marine Mammal Stranding Center. “They become lethargic in cold water, where they will slow down and often die.”
The turtles are estimated to be 3 to 4 years old or younger. They were found in intake pipes at the Oyster Creek Generating Station in Forked River. The Marine Mammal Stranding Center has rescued half-a-dozen turtles at the station this year, and 50 to 80 turtles up and down the New Jersey coast.
The turtles were being transported to Virginia Beach, where other organizations joined together for a mass release into the ocean. Along with the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, the New England Aquarium, National Aquarium at Baltimore, and Virginia Aquarium also took part in the release.
Schoelkopf said the ferry ride from Lower Township to Lewes, Del. helps provide a break to the driver, and is a thrill for passengers to see the turtles.
“The turtles seem comfortable with the swaying movement of the boat, and best of all, while on board, our staff gets to observe dolphins, whales, and loggerhead sea turtles on the bay, as well as seabirds,” Schoelkopf said. “It’s a great experience for a nature enthusiast.”
Heath Gehrke, Director of Operations for the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, said it is a great privilege for the ferry to help the mammals reach safe waters. The ferry has been transporting turtles, seals, and distressed dolphins for 35 years.
“The Marine Mammal Stranding Center does an outstanding job saving endangered mammals,” Gehrke said.
The turtles are endangered because they are killed in the Caribbean for food. Egg shells are also sold to tourists, according to a press release.
“Now if a traveler tried to get into the U.S. with a turtle shell, they wouldn’t be allowed, but it’s still too late to save the turtle,” Schoelkopf said.
The Marine Mammal Stranding Center has responded to more than 4,500 strandings of whales, dolphins, seals, and sea turtles since it was started in 1978. Originally based in Gardner’s Basin in the inlet section of Atlantic City, the center is now located in Brigantine.