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Rehabilitated sea turtle gets fresh start for Earth Day

The 65-pound turtle was released to mark Earth Day, but rescuers said humans can help wildlife all year.
Credit: AP
In this photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, Bette Zirkelbach, right, manager of the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital, observes "TJ Sharp," a juvenile green sea turtle, crawl into the ocean Friday, April 22, 2022, at Sombrero Beach in Marathon, Fla. Release of the 65-pound reptile highlighted Earth Day activities in the Florida Keys. (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau via AP)

MARATHON, Fla. — A rehabilitated green sea turtle was released back to the ocean in the Florida Keys on Friday to mark Earth Day.

Several hundred onlookers watched on Marathon’s Sombrero Beach as staff from the Keys-based Turtle Hospital released “TJ Sharp,” a 65-pound juvenile sea turtle that was rescued in February. The endangered reptile had been discovered floating offshore, unable to dive and visibly affected by fibropapillomatosis, a condition that causes cauliflower-like tumors and affects sea turtles around the world.

TJ’s condition upon arrival at the Turtle Hospital required surgical removal of the tumors and treatment with broad-spectrum antibiotics, fluids, vitamins and a nourishing diet of greens and mixed seafood.

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“Sea turtles are the oldest animal known to man — to be able to take a sea turtle, rehabilitate it and return it to its ocean home on Earth Day, it’s just an amazing day,” Turtle Hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach said.

Credit: AP
In this photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, Bette Zirkelbach, left, manager of the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital, and hospital founder Richie Moretti, right, remove "TJ Sharp," a juvenile green sea turtle, from a carrying tray before releasing the reptile into the ocean in honor of Earth Day Friday, April 22, 2022, in Marathon, Fla. The 65-pound male was rescued in February 2022 with fibropapillomatosis, a condition that causes cauliflower-like tumors and affects sea turtles around the world. A hospital veterinarian removed the tumors and the turtle recovered, enabling it to be released off the Florida Keys. (Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau via AP)

Zirkelbach said that although Earth Day is recognized once a year, humans can take daily steps to protect marine resources and help ensure the survival of sea turtles.

“What people need to do to make every day Earth Day is to reduce single-use plastics, keep trash out of our oceans and help keep our planet clean,” Zirkelbach added.

Keys visitors and residents are commemorating Earth Day’s significance with outdoor activities throughout the weekend, including Mote Marine Laboratory’s 10th Annual Ocean Fest: A Community Celebration on Saturday in Key West.

Here are some facts about green sea turtles from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration:

  • Green sea turtles are the largest hard-shelled sea turtle, with adults weighing 250 to 400 pounds. 
  • Their lifespan is unknown but is estimated to be 70 years or more. 
  • Their name doesn't come from their greenish shells. Instead, it's because the reptiles have green fat from their diet of seagrasses and algae.

Val Lick contributed to this report.

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