Jan 12, 2024 - News

Leatherback turtle makes rare appearance on South Beach

A turtle on sand w buildings lit in background

Mojo pays a visit. Photo: Courtesy of the Turtle Hospital

A leatherback turtle — the rarest of three turtle species commonly found in Florida — was found on South Beach on Dec. 29.

What's happening: The Turtle Hospital, in Marathon in the Florida Keys, was called to help and sent its turtle ambulance, manager Bette Zirkelbach tells Axios.

Why it matters: Female leatherbacks occasionally nest on Miami beaches between April and October, but it's very rare for a male leatherback to come ashore, she says.

By the numbers: Data from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission shows a big disparity in the types of turtles that nested in Miami-Dade County in 2022.

  • Loggerhead turtles: 863
  • Green turtles: 49
  • Leatherback turtles: 11

Details: In South Beach, animal experts helped to load the turtle onto a special manatee stretcher. At the Turtle Hospital, Coast Guard members helped move him into a treatment tank.

  • The turtle is between 30 and 35 years old and was nicknamed "Mojo."
  • Experts think he got tangled in debris, broke free, but got caught in the inshore current. Exhausted, he became stranded on South Beach.
  • After being treated, he was taken 18 miles offshore and released into the Gulf Stream on Dec. 31.
  • "Mojo swam strong and dived normally when released," the Turtle Hospital reported on Facebook.

What they're saying: "We put a PIT tag (similar to what people use to identify their pets) in the turtle's shoulder," Zirkelbach says. "When scanned, this tag gives an identifier number that is specific to this turtle. We did not put a satellite receiver tracking tag on the animal."

Of note: Zirkelbach suggests protecting sea turtles by minimizing single-use plastics, properly disposing of fishing gear and turning off lights off at night on the coastline during nesting season.

  • Encourage friends and family to fall in love with sea turtles, she says. "People protect what they love."
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