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    Posted January 18, 2012 by
    Elon, North Carolina

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    Crippled Sea Turtle Fights for Survival

    Amidst the bustling Central American city of Panama City, away from the traffic of the canal and the peaceful breezes of the tropical beaches, biologist Marino Abrego of the Panamanian Authority for Aquatic Resources (ARAP, in Spanish) is fighting to save the life of a crippled male Olive Ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea) sea turtle.
    The turtle’s story is much like that of Winter, the tail-less dolphin who washed up on the beach of Clearwater, Florida. He was found, like Winter, by two children on shore of the Pacific side of Panama. Both of his front two flippers were completely gone, and his back flippers were severely damaged but intact. No one knows exactly how the turtle sustained his crippling injuries, but it is believed either a predator attack or a run-in with a fishing boat or fishing net may have been the cause. Biologists at ARAP noticed the similarities in the turtle’s situation to Winter’s, and decided to name him after the season opposite of winter, Summer.
    Originally, Abrego and ARAP meant to keep Summer in captivity only long enough for him to be fed and medicated for release. When they tried to release him off shore, they found out that Summer could not swim well enough to submerge himself. They knew that if they set him free, Summer would only be washed into shore again, or become prey for a shark or other predator.
    It was decided that Summer would stay in captivity and ARAP, with the help of Panamanian nonprofits MarViva and Tortuguias, would raise money to fund a bigger facility for Summer which would be the center for a campaign to raise awareness for the importance of sea turtles and a healthy marine ecosystem.
    Sea turtles are a miracle of nature. From birth, they must face enormous odds just to get from their eggs to the ocean. Natural predators such as birds, ants, and raccoons as well as human-introduced species such as feral dogs are known to eat sea turtle eggs. Once the eggs hatch, the newborn turtles must cross the beach to the ocean, again avoiding predators such as birds and crabs. It can take 10 or more years for sea turtles to reach maturity, and only 1 in 10 live this long.
    Humans exacerbate the already narrow odds that sea turtles face to survive and reproduce. Illegal hunting of the turtles for their shells as well as illegal egg poaching is a real threat to the turtle population. Sea turtles have been known to consume trash thrown into the ocean by humans, causing them to sicken and sometimes die.
    Studies are being conducted on the impact of light pollution on sea turtle nesting, because it is though the lights on shorelines disorient the turtles, who are used to nesting during the night. Furthermore, our continued contribution to global warming and the increasing ocean temperatures is believed by researchers to further confuse the turtles, who ride the warm currents of sub-tropical oceanic zones.
    Due to all of the factors that play into sea turtle health, these animals are widely regarded as an indicator species. The health of the sea turtle population in a given area is seen as a general gauge of the overall health of the ocean and environment.
    Instances of turtles like Summer washing on shore are a serious concern to scientists, like Abrego, who are working on behalf of sea turtles. Summer’s story is a cry to the conscience of all humans to take better care of our environment and our oceans so that he and other marine life can survive, and thrive.
    Summer is currently awaiting treatment for a skin fungus that he contracted while in captivity. Once he is stable, Abrego and the other organizations involved with Summer hope to begin the process of having prosthetic flippers made. MarViva is maintaining a bank account to collect donations for the prosthesis, and Tortuguias will be holding fundraisers throughout the year to boost awareness and funds for Summer. Hopefully, like Winter, his story will have a happy ending.
    Photos by John West.
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