Four-year-old tourist rescues baby turtle, DISL releases back to safety

A Turtle's Journey

SPANISH FORT, Ala. (WKRG) – Here along the Gulf Coast, we have our spring severe weather season. Rain comes with severe weather and can cause flooding.

When we get heavy rains, mainly in the spring, river flooding often causes freshwater turtles to be washed down Mobile Bay and into the saltwater Gulf of Mexico. 

“These turtles, the females nest up in this habitat….around the Causeway, around Meaher Park, and 5 Rivers. River levels rise and a lot of those nests will get eroded away and the babies who are ready to hatch will flush out,” says Brian Jones with the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. 

River discharge into Mobile Bay can exceed two million gallons per second during these annual spring rain events. The speed of the water at the surface can be almost 1 foot per second which is too fast for most animals to handle. 

Alabama red-bellied turtles are the official state reptile and are officially an endangered species.

Brandon Johnson, a four-year-old boy, was on vacation from Illinois when he found one of these Alabama red-bellied turtles on one of the Dauphin Island beaches and named it Bowser. The family recognized that it was a freshwater turtle and was far away from its safe and natural habitat, so they called the Dauphin Island Sea Lab to rescue and release it back to safety. Bowser is now back in freshwater where he belongs. 

There are tons of river turtle nests in north Mobile Bay. “Here with Meahr, they had 25 nests last year. As with us, we have six that we are protecting at the moment,” explains Mark Wetzel, with 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center. 

One way to determine if a fresh water turtle is not where it belongs…is timing.

Sea turtles do not emerge until July or August, so if you find a small turtle on a Gulf beach in the spring, it is likely a freshwater turtle.

If you find one of these turtles, you can call any local environmental agency such as the state parks, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, or 5 Rivers Delta Resource Center.

If you find a turtle where it belongs, such as a sea turtle near the Gulf or a freshwater turtle near a river, pond, or bay, remember to leave it be so it can grow! 

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