A PASSIONATE plea has gone out from a marine life organisation calling for help to set up the UK’s first dedicated turtle rescue and rehabilitation centre on Anglesey.
Frankie Hobro, director and owner of the Anglesey Sea Zoo has launched a £50,000 fundraising bid to expand operations at its Brynsiencyn site.
Over the past few years, the centre has rescued three turtles, with two among the world’s rarest.
The rescued turtles were thought to have drifted, or struggled to have swum, thousands of miles from warmer climes, and washed up, weak and “cold-stunned” on local shores.
The centre usually specializes in British marine life, protection, ecology, sustainability, and conservation.
But it has had to fast become expert in the handling and care of tropical turtles, and has developed extremely specialist skills and knowledge.
With warming seas due to climate change, an increases in violent storms and Anglesey’s location to the edge of the Gulf Stream, Frankie says there is inevitably going to be more turtles washing up on the island, and North Wales beaches.
More are being found on British coastlines, and particularly in the south west.
Frankie says the sea zoo’s location and growing specialist expertise, means it could cater to a large area of the UK coastline if it had a dedicated turtle rescue and rehab facility.
She urges people if they do find turtles, even if they look dead, to contact the centre.
“Sometimes they look dead, but they may not be, but in cold-shock, and can still be revived, but only with the correct specialist treatment,” Frankie said.
The main advice is to “do nothing, do not try to put the turtle back into the sea, but contact the centre immediately”.
The first turtle the centre rescued was washed up on the beach, beside the sea zoo, on the edge of the Menai Strait, in November 2016.
Named Menai, the extremely rare Olive Ridley turtle broke the record for being the first of her species ever recorded in the UK since records began in 1748.
Specialising as an entirely native species aquarium, the zoo only housed cold water British species, and had no facility for keeping a full-sized tropical turtle.
The centre quickly built a special warming tank for Menai, and after months of round the clock care, she was brought back to full recovery before being sent on for release, but sadly later died.
Another juvenile, a Kemps Ridley – the rarest turtle species in the world – found only in the Gulf of Mexico, was also found last year.
Named Tally, after being found in a very poor state on Talacre beach, she is now a cheeky, thriving turtle, who enjoys splashing her handlers.
She has almost doubled in size to just over half a metre, and more than doubled in weight.
In a 24 hour “labour of love” Frankie regularly gets up through the night to check on her.
Due to her rarity, Tally cannot by law be put on public display in the zoo.
Eventually, she will be flown to Texas, possibly in the spring or summer, to be released back into the Gulf of Mexico.
Another turtle in Frankie’s care is Tonni, a more common Loggerhead, which was found in a poorly state by a dog walker on Anglesey this January.
Discovered on the beach at Moel Y Don it was named Tonni, the Welsh word for wave.
The tiny turtle is also monitored day and night, and is thriving in a special warming tank, gradually building up strength on tasty meals of sprats, prawns and crabs.
Tonni will likely be taken to be rereleased to the seas, somewhere like Canary Islands or the Mediterranean.
Frankie said: “We are really hoping people will get behind us with this latest project.
We increasingly need more specialist equipment, things like warming tanks, incubators and other things.
“We really need more space to site things like recovery tanks, we do the turtle rescue work voluntarily, on top of our usual work, we are now seeing more turtles being washed up on the shores.
“We would never turn a turtle away, but it is really stretching our existing resources in every way, without a proper area or specialist facilities for the turtles.
“We are using quite basic equipment which we have developed ourselves, and we are working in quote cramped conditions behind the scenes, from the main aquarium.
“But going forward, we need to develop a proper facility to help save more turtles, and we are now able give them the specialist care they need. We have learned so much about them in the past few years of rescuing them.”
She added: “Sea turtles belong in the wild, we do not believe in having them on long term display, even if we were allowed to.”
By law, extremely rare turtles like Tally are not allowed to be put on public display as exhibits.
But Frankie hopes someday it will be possible to share with people their work.
She said: “It would be nice to have some sort of facility, perhaps with a type of one way glass, where people could watch our work helping to rehabilitate the turtles.
“People could be able to see and learn about them, before they are moved on to be released, and see the rescue and rehabilitation work going on, but in a way without interacting, disturb them in any way.
“Some people may go their whole life and never see a turtle.
“As a result of our experiences recuing the turtles, we are have now become armed with the knowledge and experience to care for turtles.
“We now have a UK and global network of contacts, the experts in the field of turtle rescue, and we now have the specialist knowledge of how to treat UK cold-stranded turtle.
“We are also in touch with other experts and have all the professional contacts abroad, when it comes to re-releasing them after recovery.
“So, please, please, help us to raise these much needed funds for this facility.
“Help us to give every turtle that turns up on a British beach, whilst still alive, the best possible chance of survival.”
The centre is keen to hear from volunteers who could commit to helping out at the sea zoo.
The zoo is a unique aquarium with over 40 tanks displaying the best of British marine wildlife.
Among the displays it features fascinating creatures from around the coasts of the UK, such as octopus, lobsters, seahorses, conger eels, and jellyfish.
See the Anglesey Sea Zoo’s Turtle Rehabilitation and Rescue centre appeal here – https://www.gofundme.com/f/anglesey-sea-zoo-turtle-rescue-facility