June 20, 2014

Shrimper revives ailing, endangered turtle

When Andrew Van Frank went shrimping Wednesday morning near the Harbor River Bridge, he got a surprise when he pulled in his net.

He had snared a sea turtle, later identified as a Kemp's Ridley turtle, one of the world's most endangered species.

Once he and his father-in-law freed the turtle and hoisted it aboard, they realized it had lost its color and wasn't breathing.

So Van Frank flipped over the turtle and began trying to resuscitate it.

"I had no clue that chest compressions would work," Van Frank said Thursday. "That was just my first thought, and I was doing whatever I could to get it breathing."

After about a minute of compressions, the turtle took a big gasp of air, and its color began to return, he said.

But the turtle was too lethargic to return to the water, and the two men were afraid it would drown. So about noon, they decided to take it to the Hunting Island State Park Nature Center.

Park ranger Megan Stegmeir was amazed by the type of sea turtle they had brought in.

Kemp's Ridley turtles are very rare in this area, according to Stegmeir. They also are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

And, as if the mere sighting were not amazing enough, the manner in which it was saved certainly was, Stegmeir said.

The turtle is about 1 to 2 years old, according to Stegmeir. Van Frank, who shrimps recreationally and owns a tile business in Beaufort, said it is about 1 1/2 feet wide and weighs 35 pounds.

The nature center contacted the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, which took it to the Sea Turtle Hospital at the S.C. Aquarium in Charleston that afternoon.

The turtle is still being observed but "is super energetic and feisty," Sea Turtle Rescue Program manager Kelly Thorvalson said. It appears to have no lingering injuries or health problems, she added.

The hospital's veterinarians will continue to watch the turtle, which has not been given a nickname, for the next few days. If it continues to do well, it will be released in the ocean soon, aquarium spokeswoman Kate Dittloff.

Van Frank said he knows how important sea turtles are to the area and the environment. He and his wife checked in on the animal Thursday morning, and he said he was glad to hear its recovery was going swimmingly.

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