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Posted on: December 14, 2020

Flying Turtles? Gumbo Limbo Nature Center Provides First-Class Care to 20 New England Sea Turtles

Baby sea turtle rescued at gumbo limbo

BOCA RATON, FL – December 14, 2020 – On Sunday, December 13, 20 cold stunned turtles were transported from the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) to Gumbo Limbo Nature Center for emergency treatment and warming. The 17 Kemp’s Ridley and 3 Loggerhead sea turtles were found stranded and cold stunned in Cape Cod, Massachusetts by volunteers who later brought them to NEAQ for treatment. Gumbo Limbo Nature Center was asked by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to rehabilitate the 20 sea turtles that range in size from juveniles to a 120-pound Loggerhead. The multi-agency effort was permitted and approved by NOAA and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC).

Once stable, the turtles were flown to into Boca Raton Executive Airport by Turtles Fly Too, the only organization in the US that provides air transportation when endangered species are threatened, or when an endangered animal is injured. They were then immediately transported to Gumbo Limbo Nature Center to continue their recovery. Turtles Fly Too donates every flight, some of which can cost up to $100,000.

“It is an honor and a privilege to be asked to be a part of this massive rescue effort of these endangered species,” commented Leanne Welch, Manager of Gumbo Limbo. “This is a well-coordinated effort between Federal, State, local and nonprofit agencies. Gumbo Limbo Nature Center’s team is indebted to the many volunteers who rescued these turtles from cold waters in Massachusetts and donated the flight time to get them quickly to Florida.”

When fast drops in temperatures occur like they did this past week along the east coast of the US, thousands of sea turtles can be found washed up on shore ill, stunned or even deceased. Sea turtles are reptiles that rely on external sources of heat to maintain their necessary body temperature. When they are exposed to colder temperatures for a prolonged period of time, it can cause their heart rate to drop and circulation to decrease and they become lethargic. Cold stunning can also cause shock, pneumonia, frostbite and can lead to death if the sea turtle cannot migrate to warmer water in time.

“Fortunately, cold stunned sea turtles can be rehabilitated,” said Welch. “With the help of our partners we are able to utilize our Sea Turtle rehabilitation Facility to place these cold stunned turtles in dry tubs, warm them up slowly and – once they are evaluated and deemed healthy – will be released back into the ocean. None of this would be possible without the support of Friends of Gumbo Limbo and the City of Boca Raton Recreation Services Department.”

Those interested in following the recovery of the sea turtle patients can follow Gumbo Limbo Nature Center on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) or by visiting




About Gumbo Limbo Nature Center: Founded in 1984, Gumbo Limbo Nature Center is a unique cooperative project of the City of Boca Raton, the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District, Florida Atlantic University, and Friends of Gumbo Limbo.

Last year, more than 200,000 visitors took a break from the city bustle to enjoy a walk on our boardwalk, count the thousands of tropical fish in our aquariums, relax in our butterfly garden, or check on the patients in our sea turtle rehabilitation facility.

As a beacon for environmental education, research, and conservation, Gumbo Limbo’s 20 acres on the protected barrier island provide refuge to many varieties of plants and animals - some rare or endangered.  It also represents a commitment to protect our natural resources by our staff, volunteers, and the organizations that comprise the Center.



How did the turtles get to Gumbo Limbo Nature Center?

The sea turtles were flown from Massachusetts to Florida by Turtles Fly Too and transported by three City vehicles, including our sea turtle rescue van, to Gumbo Limbo Nature Center. The turtles were all transported securely in bins and dry docked for the journey. 

How many Staff /Volunteers does it take to care for them?

Typically, our sea turtle rehabilitation facility operates with 5-6 staff members and up to 8 volunteers daily. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, staff from multiple other teams at Gumbo Limbo (including education and administration) are stepping up to help with the efforts and make up for the absence of our volunteers. 

What do they eat?

Kemp’s ridley and loggerhead sea turtles eat a variety of food types but prefer crustaceans, specifically blue crabs.  

Do they need medicine?

Yes, all these new patients are suffering from multiple infections and likely have pneumonia. They will all be receiving supportive care including fluids, antibiotics and nebulizer treatments.  

What is the length of time it will take for the turtles to recover?

Every turtle is different, but it typically takes 3-6 months for most patients to recover. We are hoping to stabilize these patients sooner and look forward to a speedy recovery in the new year. 

Do they get released here?

Because these cold stun turtles are migratory species, they will be able to be released from Florida’s Atlantic beaches. We will know more details about release sites as the turtles improve. Right now, we are focused on their recovery.

Do they go in tanks first?

No. The first step for all arrivals is to spend the night dry in bins to acclimate to local temperatures and recover from the shock of travel. As they are deemed strong enough, turtles will begin to go into tanks with shallow water as early as the next day. Water levels will slowly be increased as turtles strengthen. 

Will they have satellite trackers put on them?

Maybe. While satellite tracking is expensive, this is a great opportunity to track the progress of these sea turtles after release to determine the success of their rehabilitation. We are hopeful that we may be able to satellite track one or two when they return to sea. 

Do the Friends of Gumbo help fund this recovery mission?

Yes. The Friends of Gumbo Limbo underwrite all the medical expenses of our sea turtle rehabilitation facility, including the veterinarian, medical supplies, medicine and food. If satellite trackers are used, Friends will fund this as well. None of this amazing rescue work would be possible without partnership between the Friends of Gumbo Limbo and the City of Boca Raton Recreation Services Department.

Leanne Welch
Gumbo Limbo Nature Center Manager

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