Rescuers on St. Thomas release rehabilitated sea turtle into wild

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ST. THOMAS - A hawksbill sea turtle found shot and bleeding in April has been nursed back to health and released into the wild.

The turtle was found by residents along the shoreline of Cowpet Bay, bleeding from its carapace, or shell.

Erica Palmer, a veterinarian technician at Coral World Ocean Park and Sea Turtle Assistance and Rescue Network responder, arrived at the scene along with Department of Planning and Natural Resource employees from the Division of Fish and Wildlife and Environmental Enforcement.

The rescuers stayed with the turtle overnight, evaluating its condition. According to a statement released Wednesday by Coral World, it appeared the turtle has been shot with a high-powered spear gun through its carapace and out through its shoulder.

That night, the injured animal was taken to Coral World, and the next morning, it was taken to Imperial Animal Hospital for x-rays and blood work.

The results showed the creature had broken bones and a punctured lung and was in critical condition.

It was then taken to St. Thomas Radiology for a CT scan, which confirmed the diagnosis.

The turtle stayed at Coral World, recovering from its injuries. Rehabilitation included medical attention, nutrition, therapy and monitoring.

Once the turtle's clavicle bone was healed, Coral World employees determined that the turtle's swimming abilities were not impacted by the injuries and it could be released to the wild.

On Dec. 4, Palmer brought the turtle back to Cowpet Bay and released the animal.

All sea turtles are designated as either threatened or endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973. Violations can result in up to one year in prison, up to a $100,000 fine, and the confiscation of any equipment used during the criminal act, according to Coral World.

STAR - Sea Turtle Assistance and Rescue - is a collaboration of non-governmental organizations, territorial and federal agencies, veterinarians, and community volunteers. Its members joined together to help injured sea turtles, as well as collect and disseminate information on stranded turtles, in order to better protect these marine animals, according to Coral World's statement.

The organization relies on community volunteers, local veterinarians and other donated resources.

Call STAR at 690-0474 to report any entrapped, disoriented, sick, injured, or dead sea turtle.

Coral World is the only approved Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Facility in the Virgin Islands, and has been conducting and funding turtle rehabilitation since it reopened in 1997, according to Coral World.

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