OKALOOSA ISLAND, Fla. (WKRG) — The Gulfarium C.A.R.E. Center on Okaloosa Island has had a busy 2022 season. On top of curing hooked sea turtles from local Northwest Florida fishing piers, the rehabilitation program nursed 15 cold-stunned sea turtles back to health from 2021.

Gulfarium staff said the final Kemp’s Ridley turtle from New England swam into the Gulf on Thursday, Aug. 25 at Fort Clinch State Park. The last turtle, number 473, had a long eight-month stay at the treatment center suffering an osteomyelitis bone infection in the front left flipper. Staff surgically removed the necrotic tissue and cleaned the area to heal.

“We are so happy to finally see turtle 473 head back into the ocean,” said Tabitha Siegfried, Stranding Coordinator. “Kemp’s ridleys are the most endangered species of sea turtle in the world, so anything that we can do to try to conserve this precious species is vital. We are so thankful for everyone involved who has helped us to provide the best possible veterinary care for these turtles that came to us from the Northeastern seaboard of the Atlantic due to a cold-stun event.”

The 16 kemp’s Ridley made way to Okaloosa County from Cape Cod in December of 2021. The C.A.R.E. Center released the first 7 turtles in march of 2022. Staff released the final eight over the summer months.

All of the sea turtles received antibiotics during their rehabilitation to aid in their recovery. Once the sea turtles were doing well, had gained weight, and were able to eat without assistance, they were deemed ready for release by the FWC.

Gulfarium C.A.R.E. Center

The sea turtle nesting season continues through Oct. Gulfarium staff said beach goers or anglers that see a sea turtle in distress, injured, or deceased need to call Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission immediately at 1-888-404-FWCC (1-888-404-3922). 

The Gulfarium C.A.R.E. Center is alongside the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park on Okaloosa Island.