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Once near death, rescued sea turtles sent back to the ocean

POINT PLEASANT BEACH — The last time she felt the ocean waves swirling around her, Tabitha was near death.

She was tossed about in the surf in Cape May, weakened by pneumonia, severe anemia and an intestinal blockage. She also was laden with parasites and covered with 15 pounds of barnacles, some of which had broken through to her bones.

That was June 27, 2019, when the loggerhead turtle did not appear likely to survive the week.

But Tuesday, more than a year later, Tabitha crawled from her wooden transport crate onto the sand in Point Pleasant Beach, roused by a wave that surged over her and prompted something ancient inside to propel her toward the sea for the second time in her life.

The 168-pound turtle was the 50th to be released back into the ocean by Sea Turtle Recovery, a nonprofit operating out of the Turtle Back Zoo in West Orange. Tabitha was one of three turtles to make the 61-mile trip from the rescue center in Essex County to the seashore resort of Point Pleasant Beach, home to an aquarium and one of the state’s most popular boardwalks.

“This is what we work for,” said Brandi Biehl, co-director of the center. “When they first come in, you don’t even know if they’re going to survive. And then you see them slowly pass small milestones, and then they get better and they surprise you.”

“This is the moment they wait for,” she added. “It gives them back their home and their life, and that’s what your goal is. It’s just a magical moment.”

First into the surf was Silver Belle, one of the critically endangered population of Kemp’s ridley turtles, described by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as the world’s smallest marine turtles species. The Ocean Conservancy estimates there are no more than 1,000 nesting females left in the world.

Carried to the water’s edge, she sat still for a moment to adjust to her new surroundings and feel the incoming waves washing around her. Then, flippers straining, the 5-pound turtle propelled herself across the sand into the roiling surf, disappearing into the ocean.

Silver Belle stranded Nov. 21, 2019, in Beach Haven on Long Beach Island. She had fungal pneumonia and was severely cold-stunned because she hadn’t headed south before water temperatures became too cold.

Next up was Melbourne, a green sea turtle who had stranded a week earlier in Surf City, also on Long Beach Island. He was lethargic and found floating in the water, too weak to swim because of cold-stunning and a lung infection.

Tabitha went last and sat motionless in her transport crate, even after the gate was lowered so she could see the ocean nearby.

But then a larger-than-usual wave washed far up the beach, into her crate and around her, rousing Tabitha. She crawled out of the box, onto the sand and into the surf.

The center had attached a radio tracking unit to her shell, which could allow it to monitor her movements for as long as 30 days. During that time, Biehl said, Tabitha should hopefully make it to Florida or even farther south.


Local
Two rafters pulled safely from Delaware Bay

LOWER TOWNSHIP — State Police rescued two people Saturday from the Delaware Bay, township police said Monday.

Township police responded to Beach Drive and Delford Road for a call about an unoccupied raft, the department said in a news release. Upon arrival, officers noticed an inflatable raft nearly a quarter mile out, and it appeared that one person was in the water, struggling to hang on to the raft.

The Coast Guard, State Police Marine Services Bureau, and the Town Bank Volunteer Fire Company were notified. Within minutes, State Police located Sophia Goncalves, 21, and Croccifixiov Treson-Smith, 22.

No injuries were reported, and both Goncalves and Treson-Smith were escorted to the beach, police said.


Local
Dennis Township intersection to close for resurfacing

DENNIS TOWNSHIP — The intersection of Woodbine-Ocean View Road (County Route 550) and Corson Tavern Road (County Route 628) will be closed overnight Thursday for resurfacing, Cape May County officials said Tuesday.

Beginning at 8 p.m., the intersection will be inaccessible in all directions until 5 a.m. Friday, the county said in a news release.

Traffic wishing to head south onto Corson Tavern Road will be detoured south on Route 9 to Seaville Avenue (County Route 668). Motorists traveling north will be detoured onto Route 668 east to Route 9.

Eastbound traffic on Woodbine Ocean View Road heading to Route 9 will be detoured onto Kings Highway (County Route 608) and continue traveling on 608 to 668 east to Route 9.

Traffic heading north and south along Route 9 wishing to travel west onto Route 550 will be directed to Route 668 and head west on Route 668 to Kings Highway (County Route 608). Once on Kings Highway, traffic will be directed north to Route 550.

Residents living along Corson Tavern Road and Woodbine Ocean View Road will still have access to their homes and will be able to travel unimpeded along both roads. They will not, however, be able to cross through the intersection.