Turtle Town, USA

June 5, 2014 | South Tampa Magazine | Categories: City, Culture, Editorial | Tags: Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Clearwater turtle rehab, Joe Widlansky, Mike Anderson, sea turtles

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is leading the way in the revitalization of Tampa Bay’s sea turtle population


Rescue, rehab and release; it’s all about the three R’s at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, Tampa Bay’s primary source for sea turtle monitoring and rehabilitation. Since 2005 when it first started tracking its sea turtle division, CMA has helped release 60,390 hatchlings into the Gulf of Mexico. This effort to preserve an already threatened species is made possible by local volunteers and the Aquarium’s only two paid sea turtle biologists: Joe Widlansky and Mike Anderson. We took a ride with “Turtle” Joe early one morning to examine the nests along Treasure Island.


            “Ha! This one actually hatched last night!” Joe proclaims as he steps out of his truck. As we approach the roped off turtle nest, he points to the tiny flipper prints that scatter to the water. Each morning from May until October, Joe and Mike tour 26 miles of shoreline in Pinellas County to monitor nests like this one.


This year the duo tallied a record 200 nests, which broke the previous record of 195 set in 2003. It can take 50-60 days for a nest of eggs to hatch, which means they have to monitor the beaches seven days a week to make sure the nests are progressing naturally. With the turtles hatching at night, the Aquarium must get to the beaches far before the sun rises to not only monitor and record and hatchlings, but also assist the newborn turtles to the water.

At this particular nest, Joe pulls out 71 eggs, which are burrowed about an arm’s length into the sand. He says the eggs typically have a 75-percent hatch rating. It’s normal for one sea turtle to lie anywhere from 100-120 eggs in one night.

The Gulf of Mexico is home to three primary sea turtles: loggerheads, green sea turtles and the Kemp’s Ridley, which is the most endangered of the species. With the help of biologists like Joe and Mike and a network of volunteers, the turtles are able to make it back to shore and hopefully live long, full lives.

Get Involved

So how can you help? There are several ways that you can assist the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in their pursuit to rescue, rehabilitate and release our sea turtles.

1. Report a marine emergency by calling the 24-hour emergency stranding line at 727.441.1790 ext. 234. A CMA staff member will respond to inspect any injured or stranded animal.

2. Become a volunteer. If you’d like to help monitor nests, call 727.441.1790 or email kmartin@cmaquarium.org for details.

3. Lights out! If you live along the shore keep your outside lights turned off from May-October. Newborn sea turtles are instinctually drawn to light and use the moon as a guide to make it back to the ocean.

4. Donate. Contact the Aquarium for any possible donations they might be accepting or view its Enrichment List at seewinter.com.