A 230-pound female loggerhead sea turtle got the ride of her life recently, when the volunteer GA nonprofit organization “Turtles Fly Too” flew her from a Florida turtle hospital to a conservation facility in South Padre Island, Texas. All expenses for the five-hour flight were paid by the unnamed aircraft owner-operator.
The charity’s mission statement is to “engage general aviation pilots who contribute their expertise, aircraft, fuel, and time while leaving a lasting mark on endangered species rescue efforts.” The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other organizations call on Turtles Fly Too “to provide air transportation when endangered species are threatened, either through a cold stun event, entanglement, or when an endangered animal is injured. Transport by aircraft instead of ground shortens travel time and therefore reduces stress on these turtles and other endangered species.”
This loggerhead turtle (named “Matthew” after one of her rescuers, before her gender was determined) was struck by a boat in May 2020, injuring her shell and leaving her unable to dive and forage for food. Her condition is termed “bubble butt syndrome” by the Florida Keys-area hospital’s staff.
“She’s being transported to Sea Turtle Inc. in South Padre Island because she’s unable to dive,” said Bette Zirkelbach, the turtle hospital’s general manager. Zirkelbach accompanied Matthew on the trip to Texas, and said, “[Her injury] makes her non-releasable and she will act as an ambassador for her species there at the Texas facility where they see lots of visitors.” The organization’s outreach programs are meant to raise public awareness about threats to sea turtles’ survival.