As a Living Coast animal ambassador, “Emerald” will help to raise awareness about a major threat to sea turtles: boat strikes. Photo courtesy The Living Coast Discovery Center

The Living Coast Discovery Center, a nonprofit zoo and aquarium located on the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge, announced that its newest coastal wildlife ambassador, a juvenile Atlantic Green Sea Turtle, has arrived from a veterinary hospital in the Florida Keys to find its “forever home” at the Living Coast’s Turtle Lagoon.

All sea turtles found in U.S. waters are currently listed as endangered or threatened by the Endangered Species Act. As a Living Coast animal ambassador, “Emerald” will help to raise awareness about a major threat to sea turtles: boat strikes.

The female juvenile Atlantic Green sea turtle, currently weighing in at 46 pounds, was found floating in Monroe County, Fla., in May 2021. She presented with a caudal carapace fracture, vertebral injuries, and significant buoyancy issues caused by severe gastrointestinal gas. As part of her treatment and rehabilitation at The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida, she was outfitted with a weight on her carapace, which allows her to dive more successfully and stay submerged for longer periods of time. Her injuries prevent her from being released to the wild, so a national search was conducted to find her a new home that could accommodate her care.

Visitors to the Living Coast will now be able to meet the turtle face-to-face in the center’s signature Turtle Lagoon exhibit at the front entrance. They can also learn more about her during special Sea Turtle presentations at 1:00 p.m. The Living Coast is open to the public Wednesday through Sunday (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.) and for private tours on Mondays and Tuesdays.

“The sea turtles have always been some of our most popular and beloved animal ambassadors,” said Executive Director Ben Vallejos. “While sea turtles can be found right off the coast of San Diego, many people never get the chance to see them up close. Once they have this opportunity to make a powerful connection, they want to help protect these amazing creatures and their habitats.”

The sea turtle was transported from The Turtle Hospital to the Living Coast by FedEx. Video footage of her cross-country journey and new home can be found here.

The new turtle was given the name Emerald as a nod to the Living Coast’s other sea turtle ambassador with whom she shares a similar backstory. Sapphire, a Loggerhead Sea Turtle came to the Living Coast as a sub-adult (teenager) from the same turtle hospital in 2014. She was rescued after being struck by a boat propeller in 2010, was rehabilitated and returned to the wild. Three years later, she was readmitted to the hospital after being found floating near Sapphire Key with a “skirt” of epibiota (sea grass and algae) around her carapace, indicative of floating for weeks or months at the water’s surface.

After several months of treatment, it was determined that she was not a candidate for release. A search for a new forever home began and The Living Coast responded to the need. Sapphire now resides in the Living Coast’s Shark and Ray Experience exhibit.

Additional information about The Turtle Hospital and its patients is available at www.turtlehospital.org or by calling (305) 743-2552. The hospital is located in Marathon, just off the Florida Keys Overseas Highway at mile marker 48.5.



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Ellen Bullock