Florida Keys

This turtle was speared through the neck. After recovering, she returned to the sea.

Splinter the sea turtle was in bad shape.

On Sept. 7 in Key Largo, boaters spotted her tangled in rope from a lobster trap with a gaping wound underneath her shell.

A spear, which spanned more than half of her body, was sticking out of her neck.

Now, thanks to some Florida Keys wildlife experts, the 150-pound green sea turtle is back home at sea, having healed at the Turtle Hospital in Marathon.

She was released Friday at Higgs Beach in Key West while a crowd cheered.

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Bette Zirkelbach, right, manager of the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital, watches with spectators as Splinter, a federally protected green sea turtle, crawls to the Atlantic Ocean Friday. Florida Keys News Bureau

Dr. Doug Mader, the Turtle Hospital’s veterinarian, performed endoscopic surgery to remove the spear.

Post-surgical treatment included wound care with natural honey, broad-spectrum antibiotics, vitamins and fluids and a diet of natural sea grass, green vegetables and seafood.

Bette Zirkelbach, the Turtle Hospital’s manager, said Splinter’s release could educate people that sea turtles are off-limits in the U.S.

“They’re protected by both federal and state laws, and you can’t touch a sea turtle unless you’re on a permit to help them,” Zirkelbach said.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is still investigating the attack on the turtle.

Turtle Hospital director Richie Moretti and several Florida Keys businesses have put up a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the culprit.

Anyone with information can call 305-743-2552.

“We look at each animal as that animal may be the one that’s going to have babies that your babies will see,” said Moretti. “So we love each one of them, and we will do whatever it takes to save each individual one.”

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Bette Zirkelbach, left, and Richie Moretti, right, both of the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, place Splinter, a federally protected green sea turtle, onto the beach Friday in Key West. The 150-pound reptile was released some seven weeks after it was rescued off Key Largo with a spear shot into its neck. A veterinarian surgically removed the spear. Florida Keys News Bureau

All species of sea turtles are considered threatened or endangered and are protected by the state of Florida and under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973, according to a fact page on Nova Southeastern University’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography’s website.

A person who kills a sea turtle can be tried both criminally and civilly. If criminally convicted, the person faces up to one year in prison and/or a maximum fine of $100,000. The maximum civil penalty is a $10,000 fine.

Since it opened over 30 years ago as the world’s first state-licensed veterinary sea turtle hospital, the Florida Keys facility has treated and rehabilitated more than 2,000 injured sea turtles.

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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.