The Taco Rescue

Friday, August 16, 2013

Islamorada – A Good Samaritan homeowner in Venetian Shores, FL called the Marathon Turtle Hospital to say that she saw a turtle struggling in Snake Creek. A Coast Guard Auxiliary crew completing a training exercise and arrived at the USCG Station dock in Islamorada, FL.  

 Article and photos by Auxiliarist Patti Gross

They were asked if they would like to go out and try to find the distressed turtle.  The Auxiliary crew of David Gross, Patti Gross, Chris Matthews, Jim Matthews and Chris Carlsen eagerly agreed to search.    Coast Guardsmen Sara Maehr and Nicholas Vogele also joined in the search and rescue.   “Taco” was immediately spotted, and clearly he was in distress.  

He was floating on one side and was struggling to descend, and when he did, he could only descend about 2 to 3 feet and then immediately floated back to the surface.  You could see that his shell had not been hit by a propeller, so he must have had gas that was prevented him from swimming.  The current was carrying him out through the creek into the ocean.  The crew tried to figure out how to get him onto the back of the boat, while moving through the current without injury to the turtle or the boat.  They also had to keep all of the curious onlookers from getting too close and running over “Taco.”

As the Auxiliary crew’s boat was carried onto the ocean side of the Snake Creek, Florida Wildlife Officer Scott LaRosa appeared.   He had heard the call on the radio and came to assist.   After several failed attempts to capture “Taco,” it became quite apparent that someone was going to have go into the water to safely rescue the turtle.  FWC  Officer LaRosa negotiated the turtle into shallow water where he could safely stop his boat and he courageously entered the water and captured “Taco.”   He tied a line onto one of his fore-front flippers.   The Auxiliary crew drove over to Officer LaRosa, who passed the line.  

“Taco” was guided to the back of the boat and Coast Guardsman Vogele climbed partially down the back ladder and picked up this huge turtle, having to turn him partially sideways to get him through the opening on the transom. Both rescuer and turtle ended up on their backs, but at least in the transom of the boat!   Other rescuers picked up the turtle just enough to allow Vogele to climb out from underneath Taco. 

“Taco” was exhausted from this experience, but had no cuts or propeller injuries.   A call to the Turtle Hospital was placed and once the hospital personnel arrived “Taco” was carried to an ambulance where ‘turtle triage’ occurred.  The good news was his heart rate was within normal limits and preliminary review was that hopefully “Taco” should have a full recovery.

“Taco” was named for being rescued on Cinco de Mayo!

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