MARATHON (CBSMiami) – A badly injured female hawksbill sea turtle, which airlifted from the U.S. Virgin Islands to the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, has laid several eggs.
When the hospital staff arrived Monday morning, they found the eggs in the shallow water pool where the turtle is recovering. They administered a drug to induce additional egg deposits and managed to harvest a half-dozen.
On Tuesday, the turtle laid another eight eggs.
All of the eggs have been put in an incubator containing Virgin Islands’ beach sand.
The sand is important, said Turtle Hospital Veterinarian Dr. Doug Mader, so that if the eggs are fertile and they do hatch, the baby turtles will know what their normal sand is, and know which beach to go to when they come back to breed as adults.
Any hatchlings are to be transported back to the Virgin Islands to the same St. Croix beach where the mother was found.
Meanwhile, efforts remain focused on caring for the 123-pound mother turtle.
“She’s in pretty rough shape,” said Mader, a Marathon veterinarian who has served the Turtle Hospital for years. “She’s got some pretty severe injuries. She’s got some drowning injuries and fluid in her lungs.
“And unfortunately she’s also pregnant,” he said. “And in an endangered species we want to do what we can to not only save her life, but also the life of all the hundred or so eggs in her uterus right now.”
Mader initiated treatment. An ultrasound scan reveals more than 80 remaining eggs.
The Florida Keys News Bureau contributed to this report.
“She’s on a IV right now, getting IV antibiotics and IV fluids for support,” Mader said. “If we can get her through the next 48 hours or so, we got a pretty good chance of saving her and our goal is to first save her because she’s future eggs and future generations and if we can’t save her, then we’ll do an emergency C-section to save the eggs inside.
The turtle was found on a St. Croix beach Aug. 24, likely washed ashore by Tropical Storm Isaac, Virgin Islands fish and wildlife officials. It has deep wounds on both shoulders. Officials said it might have been hooked by a fisherman and then repeatedly gaffed to remove the fishing gear.
A decision was made to take advantage of the expertise available at the Turtle Hospital in the Keys, after a St. Croix vet tried to treat it for about a week. American Airlines donated the flight for the reptile.
Mader stressed that although the turtle’s condition was grave, he and other staff would do all they could to keep it alive.
He hopes they can return the turtle and any hatchlings to St. Croix, but said if the turtle could not survive, an effort would be made to recover the eggs and hatch them in an incubator containing Virgin Islands’ beach sand so they know what their normal sand is, because they have “nest fidelity” and know when they come back to breed, they know which beach to go to.”
“Trying to keep things positive if we can pull her through this and she lays the eggs; we can get the eggs to hatch, she will go back to her home in St. Croix and the babies will be laid and hatched in sand that we brought with us from St. Croix,” he said. “So we will send them back the same day that they hatch out and they’ll be released and hopefully we’ll have a happy end to this story.”