Aircraft Operators Chip In To Save Sea Turtles

 - December 20, 2018, 1:09 PM
Workers from the New England Aquarium load sea turtles aboard a PC-12 near Boston. With its large cargo door, the speedy turboprop single makes an ideal turtle transport. One such flight this year carried 60 endangered Kemp's Ridley and Green sea turtles from Boston-area Hanscom Field to Panama City in Florida. While small turtles can be transported in cardboard boxes, Loggerheads, which can weigh more than 300 pounds, require specialized enclosures. They are moved once they are strong enough to travel, with volunteer flights continuing through the spring. The animals require several months of recovery until they are well enough to be released back into the ocean.

While this season has been one of the worst in terms of sea turtle strandings on New England beaches, business and general aviation operators have once again come to the aid of the endangered reptiles, transporting more than 250 of them from Boston to southern marine creature rehabilitation centers where they will receive care and eventually be released back into the wild.

The turtles get swept north in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream and find themselves trapped around the Cape Cod region when the temperatures dip. The “cold-stunned” creatures become lethargic and wash up on beaches where they would soon die unless quickly collected by volunteers.

The New England Aquarium, which can accommodate fewer than 100, quickly becomes overwhelmed, requiring them to be stabilized and transported to other facilities. The industry charity Turtles Fly Too arranges for them to be picked up from one of several Boston-area airports by pilots heading south, and among the aircraft volunteered this year were a Bombardier Challenger 604, as well as Pilatus PC-12s and Daher TBMs.

On one recent occasion, a GA pilot, already carrying a full load of the securely packed turtles to a Long Island facility, offered to make an immediate return trip to pick up another load. Shoreline Aviation, the FBO at Marshfield Municipal Airport, which provides its heated hangar for loading the creatures, offered him free fuel for the trip.