Rescued sea turtles head for warmer Fla. waters

It was a mad dash to save one of the slowest of sea creatures, but by Tuesday afternoon a number of endangered sea turtles were on their way to warmer waters — and a shot at survival.

Stunned by the cold, the reptiles were collected by state workers in Central Florida and transported via a Disney truck to South Florida. Students from Nova Southeastern University and workers from Florida’s Department of Environment Protection released the turtles back into the Intracoastal off John U. Lloyd State Park in Dania Beach, where the water was at least 10 degrees warmer than where they had been.

“In my 35 years here this is the first time I’ve seen something of this magnitude,” said Carmelo J. Duesler, a park service specialist with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, who supervised Tuesday’s rescue effort.

One by one, 17 green sea turtles and a nearly 300-pound loggerhead were unloaded from the truck and lugged to the water by students from NSU, which runs the Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Project.

While some turtles simply waddled their way from the shore line into the water, others needed an extra nudge and were taken into the water by volunteers or park rangers such as Mary DiaGiacomo, who braved the chilly waters to carry the turtles directly into the sea.

With more than 20 volunteers on hand, all it took was 17 minutes to unload the turtles from the big rig to the big blue sea.

The move to warmer waters was necessary because cold-blooded reptiles rely on external temperatures to determine their body temperature. When the thermostat dips, the turtles — like all cold-blooded creatures — do not have the ability to warm themselves up.

Ensuring the sea turtles’ survival is important for state officials because of their endangered species status.