By Jessica Tuggle
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- Somewhere swimming in the Indian River Lagoon is a sub-adult loggerhead sea turtle with a new lease on life, thanks to the quick actions of high school students and rehabilitation facilities at Sea World in Orlando.
Herbert the sea turtle was released back into the lagoon last week after nearly a year of recovery time following head trauma in a swimming accident with summer campers from Saint Edward's School last June.
While campers were enjoying recreational water activities at Little Starvation Cove, so was Herbert. When a boat operated by the students bumped into Herbert, the sea turtle became disoriented and began to flounder in the water, said Saint Edward's sophomores Nicole Fredericks and Maggie Barry and senior Matt Murphy.
The students and counselors took turns holding him in the water while a call was made to a rescue team. With the help of the school's athletic director, students then worked together to place him on a raft and move him to the shore where the rescue team could take over his care, Matt said.
"We had never experienced anything like this before," said Maggie.
Many people don't realize sea turtles often choose the Indian River Lagoon as a temporary habitat as they grow into full adulthood, said Rick Herren, Indian River County environmental specialist.
"Between 15 percent and 20 percent of all stranding calls, or distress calls, come from animals being hit by boats," Mr. Herren said. "The team of sea turtle rescue volunteers stay busy responding to calls for sea turtles in distress or for sea turtles that wash up filled with disease and close to death."
But aside from the head trauma, Herbert was in pretty good condition, and that was why he was able to heal from his injury and recover from infection and other issues while recuperating.
The students stayed aware of the sea turtle's condition and were excited to see his full recovery.
A small crowd of people watched as the Sea World team lifted Herbert out of his transport pool and onto the banks of the lagoon at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce, approximately four miles from the site of the accident.
After a few moments of letting the water lap onto his flippers and shell, the sea turtle pushed off the sand and began his second-chance journey.
"It was really cool to see him be free in the water," Nicole said.
Steve McCulloch, a manager of the marine mammal research and conservation program at Harbor Branch, said he was proud and impressed that the students took responsibility and responded with compassion toward the sea turtle's plight.
"That's the best part of this," Mr. McCulloch said.
Boaters can do simple things to minimize the chances of injuring a sea turtle or other marine mammal, such as a dolphin in the water.
"Slowing down, wearing polarized sunglasses and checking the surface of the water were animals come up to breathe are all ways of lowering the risk of injury to an animal," Mr. Herren said.
Residents can report dead, sick or injured sea turtles or marine mammals to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation by calling (888) 404-3922.