Injured sea turtle succumbs to wounds, infection

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ST. CROIX - Good Hope, an injured sea turtle who seemed to be beating the odds during the last month at The Turtle Hospital as she fought infection and her wounds began to heal, lost her battle on Tuesday.

The endangered hawksbill turtle, named for the St. Croix beach where she was found, injured and sick and laden with eggs after Tropical Storm Isaac passed in August, died Tuesday morning at The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Fla. Good Hope had been receiving treatment at the hospital for more than a month.

Bette Zirkelbach, manager of The Turtle Hospital, said that staff who had come in to do routine care on Good Hope on Tuesday morning found her dead in her tank.

The turtle had seemingly been beating the odds as her condition showed gradual but steady improvement during more than a month of treatment, officials said.

"We were really shocked, because yesterday she showed more movement, more activity than we've seen since she's been here," Zirkelbach said.

A necropsy done Tuesday showed that Good Hope died of pneumonia, Zirkelbach said.

"Her lungs were filled with sand and water," Zirkelbach said. "With the look of her lungs, she really didn't have a chance."

The turtle was not exposed to sand while she was at the hospital, so officials believe the sand must have gotten into her lungs during the storm, Zirkelbach said.

"She probably picked it up in the surf as she was coming in with Tropical Storm Isaac," Zirkelbach said.

Good Hope was found injured and washed up on Good Hope Beach after Isaac on Aug. 24 and was taken to a St. Croix veterinarian, where she was stabilized as much as possible before transfer to The Turtle Hospital, where she arrived Sept. 1.

Her major injuries included deep puncture wounds to both of her front flippers, which then became infected. The wounds appeared to have been made by someone wielding a gaff, Zirkelbach said.

Once the infection gained hold, it spread into the turtle's bloodstream and became systemic.

When Good Hope arrived at The Turtle Hospital on Sept. 1, in addition to the deep puncture wounds and systemic infection, her eyes were swollen shut and there was fluid in her lungs, according to information from the hospital.

Although the veterinarian initially placed her chances of survival at 10 percent when she arrived, Good Hope responded to treatment that included a broad-spectrum antibiotic intravenously, deep-wound care, tube feedings, physical therapy and vitamins, Zirkelbach said. By mid-September, the vet had given the turtle a 50-50 chance of survival.

Good Hope had seemingly improved so much that the vet intended to do a minor procedure on her eyes, which were still swollen shut, on Tuesday, but she was found dead before that occurred, Zirkelbach said.

"Reptiles are amazing. Sea turtles can endure a lot," Zirkelbach said. "They're just really resilient."

The loss was difficult for staff, who now will focus on Good Hope's eggs, she said.

The turtle's eggs are being incubated in sand flown in from St. Croix's Good Hope Beach, with the hope that they will hatch.

Good Hope passed eggs periodically while she was at the hospital, and on Tuesday, the vet harvested 58 more eggs before the necropsy, for a total of 126 eggs, with 119 potentially viable and incubating, Zirkelbach said.

It will not be clear whether the eggs are fertilized and viable until the incubation period passes and staff see whether any hatch.

"If they do, they will be flown back to St. Croix and released on the beach where she was found," Zirkelbach said. "The hope now is for the 119 eggs that we have incubating, that hatchlings will be returned to St. Croix to carry on her legacy."

Students at Good Hope School who had been following the turtle's plight online were saddened on Tuesday by the news that Good Hope had died, said Raquel Cedano, head of school.

Sherri Mansfield, a first-grade teacher, had gotten her students particularly interested in Good Hope.

"She's been educating her first-graders about turtles, about safety and getting them interested in doing a fundraiser to help Good Hope," Cedano said. "Our pre-K through sixth grade were gearing up for a fundraiser to assist Good Hope to get what she needed. Now, the fundraiser has been put on hold temporarily."

Meanwhile, the school will try to raise more awareness and understanding of how to keep endangered sea turtles safe, Cedano said.

She said that if hatchlings emerge from Good Hope's eggs, she hopes students can see them released or get involved somehow.

"I would love for us to participate in that, for the students to be able to see the full circle," Cedano said.

For updates on Good Hope's eggs, go to

- Contact Joy Blackburn at 714-9145 or e-mail

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