As the world stands frozen in place to stop the spread of this devastating virus, Turtles Fly Too was requested to fly an emergency rescue mission the last weekend in March. The goal: to return one loggerhead and 16 cold-stunned Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles back to the oceans after recovery. With the global pandemic occurring, this mission was more than what we would normally ask of a Turtle Flier, however, upon receiving the request for assistance it was quickly determined that we needed to respond.
Turtles Fly Too assisted NOAA Fisheries by transporting these 17 sea turtles from the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) facility in Quincy, MA to a final destination in the south for release. The flight team took off early Saturday morning from Shoreline Aviation at Marshfield Municipal Airport.
During this unprecedented time of social distancing and illness due to COVID-19, the New England Aquarium is closed to the public and has limited staffing. Seventeen of their rehabilitated sea turtles have been cleared for release by their veterinarian, and it is imperative to transport them to a release beach as soon as possible. This release ensures that healthy turtles do not spend time in a rehabilitation setting where they could be susceptible to ailments of other turtles and risk being habituated to a captive environment. In addition, releasing these turtles allows NEAQ to protect their staff by reducing the number of people at the facility and abiding by social distancing requirements.
An abundance of caution was used with both transport vehicles and planes being completely disinfected. Everyone was equipped with special clothing, face masks, and gloves to reduce the risk of spread, and no one was within 6 feet of new individuals during the entire mission to comply with CDC requirements without protective gear. At Turtles Fly Too, our goal is to not only protect our beloved sea life but also protect our pilots. We are proud to continue to fly this essential mission during a global crisis.
Turtles Fly Too coordinated this flight and we owe considerable thanks to our Turtles Fliers’ flight team Dr. Ed Filangeri and daughter Alyssa from New York state who volunteered for this emergency mission.
Midway Stop for Fuel on Our Compassion Flight!
After a fuel stop in Fayetteville, NC, coordinated by Signature Flight Support so that no personal contact occurred between our Turtle Fliers and their ground support, our plane was in the air again headed to its final destination. Thanks to Michael Vinay from Signature for handling our refueling needs. Wheels up at 12:45 pm, and they were headed to their final destination.
As we continue to shelter in place, TF2 followed the emergency rescue mission on Facebook, with five posts during the day reaching over 15,000 viewers.
Turtles Released at 3:30 pm
Our 16 Kemp’s Ridleys and one Loggerhead bid us farewell as they ventured off safely into our oceans. With each mission, we often think of the old story our mother used to tell of the one starfish and while it can be overwhelming, we are making a difference to those individuals. Our team cannot help but feel a sense of pride when we complete a mission and do our part to give another chance to a few endangered creatures.
Although the public was not invited to join us for this momentous occasion, it is important to realize that the job was done. We used extreme caution and care in executing this mission because we know how important these sea turtles are to our environment. You will see no crowds were gathered, and social distancing was used during the release to protect all concerned.
We would like to extend a sincere thank you to everyone that made the mission a success. The extra work required to disinfect boxes, the vehicles, and the plane, special clothing and safety precautions for distancing, coordination with airstrips, photographers, staff on both ends at the Turtle Centers, and Turtles Fly Too’s Founder Leslie Weinstein who worked tirelessly for over a week planning this release.
To give you an idea of what it takes to put one flight together, we would like to recognize those involved in making the flight successful. Kate Sampson from NOAA; Connie Merigo and her team at New England Aquarium; Dr. Terry Norton at Georgia Sea Turtle Center and his staff awaiting the turtles, and coordinating the release; our Turtle Fliers Dr. Ed Filangeri and Alyssa; airports - Shoreline Aviation at Marshfield Municipal Airport, Signature Flight Support in Fayetteville, and Jekyll Island Airport; FlightAware, who provides the aircraft tracking software; Bose, who provides our Turtle Fliers with headsets; and our incredible videographer Craig Stephens, from Understory Film in Jacksonville, FL, and his family, who traveled to photo document the release for you.
Photo credits: Ed & Alyssa Filangeri, Craig Stephens, and NEAq staff