Florida Keys

How did Harry the sea turtle get to Florida? It’s a mystery, but now he will stay here

Here’s an inside look at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon

Turtle Hospital Manager Bette Zirkelbach's voice can be heard on this video introducing various sea turtles that the nonprofit is rehabilitating. The hospital will release a rarely seen olive ridley sea turtle on Aug. 22 in Key West.
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Turtle Hospital Manager Bette Zirkelbach's voice can be heard on this video introducing various sea turtles that the nonprofit is rehabilitating. The hospital will release a rarely seen olive ridley sea turtle on Aug. 22 in Key West.

Sea turtle releases are common in the Florida Keys.

But this one comes with a unlikely twist.

Harry the sea turtle will return to the ocean this week at a Key West beach and his type is rarely seen in the United States, according to the Turtle Hospital, a Marathon-based center that rehabilitates damaged turtles and this year saved Harry’s life.

The olive ridley sea turtle is the most abundant sea turtle species in the world, but they like the beaches of Mexico down to Colombia, says the National Wildlife Federation.

In the Indian Ocean, the turtle type is mostly seen in eastern India and Sri Lanka, according to the federation. The species is named after the color of its heart-shaped shell.

They do not nest on the beaches of the U.S.

“Harry looks so much better,” said Bette Zirkelbach, manager of the Turtle Hospital. “Nobody wanted to believe Harry was an olive ridley. But we had a DNA test done.”

The release is set for 10 a.m. Thursday at Higgs Beach off Atlantic Avenue in Key West behind the Salute! On the Beach restaurant, 1000 Atlantic Boulevard. The Turtle Hospital’s ambulance will arrive at 9:30 a.m..

Harry was rescued in February about six miles offshore of Harry Harris Park in Tavernier, found emaciated and with injuries on all four flippers. He had become entangled in a “massive” abandoned fishing net known as “ghost nets,” the hospital said in a news release.

“Harry made a miraculous recovery and is ready to return to his ocean home,” the hospital said. “Unfortunately, ghost nets and fishing gear are the greatest threat olive ridleys face.”

Harry received antibiotics, intravenous nutrition, wound treatment, vitamins and a diet of fish, shrimp and squid.

The Loggerhead Marinelife Center, of Juno Beach, and the hospital will place a small satellite transmitter on Harry for tracking purposes.

Only six olive ridleys have been documented in Florida, the hospital said, so the tracker could help biologists figure out why Harry was in Florida waters.

Gwen Filosa covers Key West and the Lower Florida Keys for FLKeysNews.com and the Miami Herald and lives in Key West. She was part of the staff at the New Orleans Times-Picayune that in 2005 won two Pulitzer Prizes for coverage of Hurricane Katrina. She graduated from Indiana University.
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