MARATHON (CBSMiami/AP) – A loggerhead sea turtle recovering its strength from a possible boat injury is leaving its Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital after more than a year for its new permanent home.

Hospital staffers are making the final preparations Wednesday for the turtle’s 2,500-mile journey to San Diego’s The Living Coast Discovery Center.

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Staff at the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Fla., scrub and wash Sapphire. (Source: Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO)

Staff at the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Fla., scrub and wash Sapphire. (Source: Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO)

The 129-pound subadult female named Sapphire cannot be released into the wild because she can’t submerge without weights attached to her shell. As she grows, the weights will fall off and new ones must be attached.

“She has ‘bubble butt’ syndrome,” said Turtle Hospital Manager Bette Zirkelbach. “She is unable to evacuate air from her lungs due to a spinal cord injury, so unfortunately for Sapphire, she is non-releasable.”

Because of a boat strike injury, Sapphire cannot submerge without weights affixed to its carapace. (Source: Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO)

Because of a boat strike injury, Sapphire cannot submerge without weights affixed to its carapace. (Source: Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau/HO)

Sapphire was first rescued in February 2010 with a wound that came from a boat strike, Zirkelbach said. The turtle spent 45 days in treatment and was freed after it appeared she was fully recovered. However, in May 2013, Sapphire was found floating off the Keys.

Florida wildlife officials decided Sapphire needed a “forever home.”

Of the 1,400 turtles the Turtle Hospital has treated and freed in the past 28 years, Sapphire is the only one that has returned, hospital records show.

Zirkelbach and hospital founder Richie Moretti are accompanying the turtle on FedEx flights from Miami to Memphis and then to San Diego in order to monitor its health and comfort.

“Unfortunately, Sapphire is non-releasable due to her spinal cord injuries, but the good news is that she will be able to go and act as an ambassador for her species, the endangered sea turtles,” Zirkelbach said.

Sapphire’s new home is to be a 21,000-gallon temperate ocean water tank, with a large acrylic underwater viewing area offering visitors the opportunity to get close to marine creatures. Educational messaging will explain the need to protect loggerheads and other sea turtles around the world.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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