Sea turtles are one of the most amazing, and most endangered, marine species in the world. In Virginia, we are fortunate to have sea turtles visit our coastal waters and nest along our beaches. But hosting these visitors also means we have a responsibility to keep them safe and healthy as they continue their journey. And, unfortunately, sometimes these turtles eat recreational anglers’ bait and unintentionally fall victim to the end of an angler’s reel. That’s where our Pier Partner Program comes in.
In 2014, the Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response Program instituted the Virginia Pier Partner Program, an outreach campaign that equips local recreational pier anglers with the knowledge and tools needed to respond to accidentally hooked sea turtles. In recent years, anglers have learned how to safely retrieve hooked turtles and are asked to notify our Stranding Response Team. Once in our care, we will conduct a physical examination and begin any rehabilitation procedures necessary before releasing the turtle back into the ocean.
In 2018, we received a record number of hooked turtle reports. Of 66 reported cases, the response team recovered and admitted 45 hooked turtles for exam. Almost 87% of these were Kemp’s ridley turtles, the most critically endangered species of sea turtle. Our team also responded to hooked green and loggerhead sea turtles.
Already in 2019, the Stranding Response Program has admitted 2 hooked turtles.
• Broccoli, hooked on April 25 at Little Island Park
• Parsnip, hooked on May 1 at the Buckroe Fishing Pier
Part of the importance of reporting hooked sea turtles to our Stranding Response Program lies in the fact that while most hooked turtles appear otherwise healthy when admitted, the presence of secondary hooks (other hooks found upon examination), and injuries or conditions other than the hooking are always a possibility. Of the turtles we have recovered to date, 15% contained secondary hooks. We have found this problem occurring most frequently in loggerhead turtles, where almost half of admitted patients displayed at least one additional hook.
Since its beginning, the success of the Pier Partner Program is largely because of conscientious anglers, pier personnel and dedicated volunteers. Because of their efforts, we have fielded 253 reports of hooked turtles and admitted 172 turtles to be examined.
If you hook a sea turtle, please call Virginia Aquarium Stranding Response at 757-385-7575 immediately. If fishing on a pier, notify pier management, as our Partner Piers (listed below) have lift nets for rescue kept at the pier office; to retrieve the turtle, slip the net under the turtle and lift to the pier using the net, relieving pressure from the hook site. Alternatively, if the turtle is too large to lift, the animal can be walked to shore. Once the turtle is landed, do not attempt to remove the hook, as this may cause more damage. The line may be cut, leaving at least 2 feet (60 cm) of line attached to the hook. At this point, bring the turtle to pier management, who will place the turtle in a quiet, secure location while the Stranding Response Team is on their way to the pier. The Stranding Response Program is interested in all reports of hooked turtles, regardless of location or whether the turtle was recovered successfully, in addition to all reports of live, stranded, and deceased sea turtles and marine mammals.
A special thank you to our current Pier Partners:
• Buckroe Fishing Pier
• Little Island Fishing Pier
• Ocean View Fishing Pier
• Virginia Beach Fishing Pier