GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - Dozens of endangered turtles, stunned by the extreme cold in the Northeast, will be rehabilitated in the warmth of the deep South. Thirty of those turtles will be nursed back to health at the Institute of Marine Mammal Studies (IMMS) in Gulfport.
A Coast Guard plane, carrying a live cargo of 85 endangered Kemp's Ridley turtles, arrived at Million Air terminal shortly after 3:30 Monday afternoon.
“So, we have 30 turtles going to you guys. It also got quite cold on the plane. Especially on the ones in the back. It already warmed up ten degrees just in coming down,” said the representative from New England Aquarium, which helped with the turtle transfer.
They wasted little time unloading the injured turtles, temporarily kept in banana boxes lined with towels. It was considerably warmer here than in frigid Cape Cod, which they left six hours earlier.
“Much warmer. We're happy to be here. Wish we could stay,” said Coast Guard pilot, Jim Freeman, “They're scratching around in the boxes a lot more than they did up north. So I think they're happy to be here. They feel at home.”
“We are very grateful that we can help the folks from the northeast. We're going to rehab them. Some of them are fairly sick. It might take two or three months to rehab,” said Dr. Moby Solangi, director of the IMMS.
The Department of Marine Resources (DMR) helped arrange for the turtle's transfer to the much warmer South.
“It's a fabulous thing. A lot of those people helped us after Hurricane Katrina. And we know how we love turtles and dolphins and such down here. So we're glad to be able to help them out,” said the DMR's Melissa Scallan.
The help is much appreciated by those who've been overwhelmed by stranded turtles. Theresa Padvaiskas is a volunteer at New England Aquarium.
“We had an epic year. We had over 12 hundred turtles. We had 700 of them come into our facility and we need to make room for more that still might be coming in,” she explained.
With a little luck, the turtles will be nursed back to health, then released in the warmer waters of the Mississippi Sound.
“It takes veterinary care, antibiotic treatments, water, feeding. Getting them back on their feet,” said Dr. Solangi.
Besides the 30 turtles going to the IMMS in Gulfport, the remaining animals on Monday's flight were headed for the Audubon Aquarium in New Orleans and Gulf Life in Panama City, Florida.