Houston Zoo Bird Staff Saving Wildlife Part 4

This blog was written by Kasey Clarke, a member of the Houston Zoo’s Bird Department. Kasey received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from her coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for birds in the Mariana Islands (a chain of islands in the western North Pacific Ocean). We will be posting a series of blogs as Kasey documents her work overseas.  

The process described below is part of the Mariana Conservation Program to relocate local bird species to neighboring islands that do not have the invasive brown tree snake, an introduced species that preys upon native birds. 

When the bird room is full of Rufous fantails and Mariana fruit doves the veterinarians do a medical exam on every single bird. We had two vets, one vet tech, and four bird keepers helping with the exams. It was great having this many people on hand to complete this enormous task as efficiently as possible.

During this process a small amount of blood is taken from the underside of the wing with a capillary tube, just like when a person is checking their blood sugar levels. The blood is put onto a slide; this is called a blood smear. The slides are looked at under a microscope to see if the blood cells are normal and to make sure the white blood cell count is normal. If the white blood count is high that could mean the bird is fighting an infection.

Medical exam performed on a bird as it prepares to be translocated for conservation purposes
Blood from each bird is looked at carefully to ensure the blood cells are normal and the bird is healthy

After the blood is collected the bird is given a physical. The vet checks the body condition, sound of its heart and breathing, and checks its eyes to make sure it has no issues with vision. If the bird seems less than the pinnacle of health, the bird is released and not translocated. We want to make sure every bird has the best chance of surviving in its new home.

Each bird is looked at carefully by wildlife professionals

The last thing done during the exam is a feather collection. The feathers are collected so that the gender of the bird can be determined. This is not determined while we are there, but it takes about a week or two for an outside lab to do the work. This information is recorded for future data analysis.

All these things are noted for each individual bird’s records. Note cards are kept with the birds while they are in our care and we write down everything that happens. The birds’ weight, where it was found, diet consumption, bands (identification), and medical notes are all written on these cards.

Records are kept for each individual bird

Next time the birds will be prepped for departure and we will watch them sail away towards their new home!

Houston Zoo Bird Staff Saving Wildlife Part III

This blog was written by Kasey Clarke, a member of the Houston Zoo’s Bird Department. Kasey received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from her coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for birds in the Mariana Islands (a chain of islands in the western North Pacific Ocean). We will be posting a series of blogs as Kasey documents her work overseas.  

The process described below is part of the Mariana Conservation Program to relocate local bird species to neighboring islands that do not have the invasive brown tree snake, an introduced species that preys upon native birds. 

The bird room for native birds who are being relocated to islands without the invasive brown tree snake

When the birds come in from the field, it’s time for some important record-keeping. The birds are banded, weighed, and their wings, legs, and tails are measured. They are also given a physical to make sure they are in good body condition. We check for signs of nesting as well (such as a bare spot on their belly). Each bird gets a metal band with a unique number engraved on it. This helps us to identify each bird and more easily keep track of them as we feed and monitor their condition.  Below are several photos of the process for both the fruit dove and the rufous fantail that we met in the previous blog entry.

Measuring the tarsometatarsus length
Measuring primary feathers
Measuring tail feathers
Checking feather quality
Measuring tarsometatarsus length
Banding the birds-putting small tags on the birds for identification purposes

After they receive their physical they are placed in their own individual box. The dove boxes are larger than the boxes for the fantails because they are much larger birds. They will then travel to Guguan (another island in the Mariana region). This travel time also gives us a chance to collect feather, blood, and fecal samples in order to determine sex and the stress level of every bird. Disney Animal Kingdom sends a team from their veterinary clinic to collect these samples for a study they are doing on cortisol (stress hormone) levels. I will go more in depth on the process of the medical exams next time.

Dove boxes
Fantail boxes

Every day the fruit doves are fed a mixture of papaya, Kaytee exact high fat formula, and water. This is done three times a day. The rufous fantails get fed meal worms and flies four times a day. The idea is to have them eat consistently to ensure they are as healthy as possible throughout their journey.

Next time we will see our rufous fantail friend get a medical exam.

Rescued Sea Turtle Returns to Wild

This blog post was written by Heather Crane, a Houston Zoo staff member in our Sea Lion Department. The sea turtle release described below would not have been possible without prominent sea turtle conservationists at NOAA Galveston who provided all care and support to rehabilitate the sea turtles mentioned in this blog.

On October 30, 2016 a group of volunteers and I were at a scheduled Sea Lion team Surfside Jetty cleanup when we discovered an entangled green sea turtle. Cleanups are executed monthly by the Houston Zoo Sea Lion Team. Through a partnership between the Houston Zoo and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), fishing line is removed to prevent wildlife entanglement and pollution. We notified NOAA of the entangled sea turtle by calling the sea turtle hotline at 1-866-TURTLE-5. While we waited on a NOAA scientist to arrive, the turtle became more entangled and appeared distressed. My worst fear started playing out before me: this endangered turtle was drowning. Help was still 30 minutes from arriving. I made the decision to enter the water to disentangle and retrieve the sea turtle. My team of volunteers stood close by to assist and ensure my safety. Our Conservation Intern of the time, Taylor Rhoades, also entered the water to free me when my shoes also became entangled in fishing line. The in-water dangers that exist pose a threat and it is not recommended that members of the public enter the water. NOAA biologist, Lyndsey Howell, arrived and removed the fishing line that was tightly wound around the front left flipper of the turtle. She took the green turtle to the Galveston Sea Turtle Facility to begin what would become a seven month rehabilitation and recovery.

Green sea turtle entangled in discarded fishing line
Houston Zoo staff and intern retrieve sea turtle from in-water entanglement by fishing line

On Friday, May 19th, the sea lion team was invited to watch the rescued green sea turtle be released back into its natural habitat. This was an unexpected surprise and a very special and generous invitation from NOAA, which will forever have an impact on my life. NOAA was scheduled to release five green sea turtles on Friday. I was surprised when we were told our team would help release some of the turtles. We got a lesson from the biologists, Lyndsey and Heather, on safe handling and release practices before being allowed to release the turtles. I took the first turtle to the water and when it touched the surface of the water, it knew exactly what to do. I watched it until it disappeared into the water about 15 feet in front of me. Next, my supervisor, Sophie Darling, took a turn releasing a turtle too. After four turtles were released, the only one that remained was the turtle I had rescued in October.

Houston Zoo Sea Lion staff and NOAA biologist prepare a green sea turtle for release back into the wild
Houston Zoo Sea Lion Supervisor, Sophie, prepares a green sea turtle for release back into Galveston Bay
Houston Zoo sea lion staff helps return a rehabilitated sea turtle to the wild! This turtle was cared for by NOAA Galveston

The surprises just kept coming. Not only would I have the opportunity to watch the turtle I rescued go home, I was also going to be the one to release him! I had never imagined I would be part of this endangered animal’s story, and certainly never thought I would see the full circle process. When I peered in to the container in which the turtle had been transported, it appeared healthy and active. And WOW! It had doubled in size too! I would recognize this turtle anywhere, even if it had doubled in size. The posterior edge of the shell had a small hole in it when I first encountered it in October. Additionally, due to the tight fishing line that was wrapped around the front left flipper, there was distinctive line entanglement scarring. As I walked towards the water, I stopped to take a picture with the turtle before wishing it farewell and good luck. As I waded out into the shallows, I only felt excitement. I think I was still in shock that NOAA had included me in this turtle’s journey. I lowered the turtle to the water and it took just a moment for it to start swimming. First, it swam backwards, which both confused and humored me, but then, it swam gracefully away towards the deeper water. As I watched, I could think of fewer greater moments of joy in my life.

Houston Zoo staff member, Heather, was overjoyed to help release the green sea turtle she helped rescue from the Surfside Jetty just 7 months ago.

The Houston Zoo has empowered me to take an active role in conservation of wild animals. The Houston Zoo’s partnerships with NOAA and other conservation organizations are invaluable and are what make our conservation programming successful. I feel proud to know that this is only one example of how the Houston Zoo lives its mission of saving animals in the wild. Many people have thanked me and have told me how I impacted the life of the green sea turtle I rescued that day. In the end, we both impacted each other. When I reflect upon proud moments of my life and career, this experience will always be amongst the experiences of which I am most proud. I am proud, too, to be a part of team dedicated to ensuring clean waterways through the dedication of time and energy every month to cleaning the Surfside Jetty. And I could not be more thankful to NOAA and all the work they do to rescue, rehabilitate, and release these beautiful and endangered turtles.

To watch a short video of the green sea turtle being released, please visit: Sea turtle release

You can help protect sea turtles in Texas by disposing of fishing line properly. Place fishing line in designated monofilament recycling bins, or take it home with you and dispose of it in your trash so it does not blow into the ocean where animals like sea turtles, fish, dolphins, and birds can become entangled. 

Look for these bins when fishing-you can dispose of your fishing line here and it will be kept out of the ocean where it can harm animals like sea turtles!

Houston Zoo Bird Staff Saving Wildlife Part II

This blog was written by Kasey Clarke, a member of the Houston Zoo’s Bird Department. Kasey received a Staff Conservation Fund grant from her coworkers at the Houston Zoo to carry out a wildlife-saving project for birds in the Mariana Islands (a chain of islands in the western North Pacific Ocean). We will be posting a series of blogs as Kasey documents her work overseas.  

The process described below is part of the Mariana Conservation Program to relocate local bird species to neighboring islands that do not have the invasive brown tree snake, an introduced species that preys upon native birds. 

Field days are long and hot. In this blog entry I will walk you through a typical day in the field. With lots of photos!

We wake up at 4:00 am to be ready to head out to the field by 4:45 am. We get to our site at 5:15 am and unload the gear for the day and start opening the mist nets (a net used by ornithologists and biologists to safely gather birds for research and conservation purposes). At 6:15 all the nets should be open and then we wait. Nets are checked every 15-20 minutes for birds. All non-target birds (those birds we are not relocating as part of this conservation effort) are released immediately.

Mist nets are used for to safely catch birds for research and conservation. Here is our team setting up the nets for Mariana fruit doves.
Ellen, a Toledo Zoo staff member safely removes a wild bird from the mist net. Trained zookeepers who work with birds daily assist with this task due to their extensive background and training in handling birds.
A Mariana fruit dove
Birds are transported to a transport crate using soft cloth bags.
These transport crates are used to safely move birds.

There is a second field site for a different bird species, the Rufous fantails. The nets used for this species are not as tall and the mesh is also smaller. The fantails weigh about 8 grams while doves weigh about 75 grams.

Another mist netting site, setup to locate another species of bird, called the Rufous fantail.
Each bird is kept safe in a labeled cloth bag before it is moved to a transport crate.
Transport boxes for the birds.
Each label from the cloth bags is placed on the transport crate to identify the individual bird.

Flies are then collected and put in the box for the bird to eat. The fantails are very active birds and need to eat constantly. We catch flies by placing buckets over a tray of fish. If only you could smell through the internet!

Collecting flies for the birds to eat.
Modified petri dishes are used to collect the flies. The petri dishes are then placed in the box with the bird and the lid is removed quickly so that the flies don’t escape.

Someone makes runs out to both field sites to pick up birds every few hours to take them to the holding room.

At about 4:45 pm we will close up the nets and head back into town.

Next time I’ll tell you what happens to both this fantail and dove when they get to the “bird room”!

It’s Just One Piece: Surfside Jetty Clean-up and Sea Turtle Rescue

This blog post was written by Taylor Rhoades, Conservation Impact Intern at the Houston Zoo. 

It’s just one piece. Surely someone else will come along and pick it up, right? If it’s still there after my meeting I’ll come back and throw it away when I’m not in such a hurry.

How many of us have muttered those phrases to ourselves as we walk by trash on the street or drop something as we are rushing about our day? As easy as it is for us to pick up just one piece of trash and help clean up the areas around us, it is equally as easy, in the hustle and bustle of a huge metropolitan area, for us to disconnect from our surroundings and not think twice about where our litter ends up.

Some of our trash can make its way into our waterways, which lead to larger bodies of water like lakes or oceans. Here in Houston, we often find that trash ends up in the Gulf of Mexico. This body of water that we flock to each summer to escape the Texas heat is also home to hundreds of marine species that may find their homes polluted by debris.

It is because of this understanding that trash in our waterways can negatively impact local animals like sea turtles and pelicans that our Houston Zoo staff began assisting partners at NOAA who initiated a fishing line recycling program at the Surfside Jetty. The sea lion team that has taken the lead on this collaborative effort became deeply invested in this project because of Astro, a former Houston Zoo sea lion who came to us from California with a neck injury that is suspected to have been caused by trash in the ocean. Here at the Houston Zoo our animals serve as ambassadors for their wild counterparts, so whether we are working with sea turtles or sea lions we want our actions both on and off zoo grounds to reflect our mission of connecting communities to animals and inspiring action to save wildlife. As the zoo’s conservation impact intern, I was given the opportunity to join one of these jetty clean-ups on Halloween weekend.

Astro the sea lion was an ambassador for his species-bringing awareness to the problem of marine debris.
Astro the sea lion was an ambassador for his species-bringing awareness to the problem of marine debris.

I will be first to admit that participating in a jetty clean-up can be daunting – the jetty stretches out as far as the eye can see, and trash is abundant. Down on the rocks, with waves crashing against me, I found myself determined to reach every piece of trash I could see yet frustrated by how much surrounded me and how difficult it could be to pry bottles and fishing line free. But then, something incredible happened – we saved a sea turtle.

Green sea turtle entangled in fishing line off the Surfside Jetty, Texas.
Green sea turtle entangled in fishing line off the Surfside Jetty, Texas.

A visitor to the jetty spotted the turtle about 20 feet out from the jetty wall, and recognizing that it was struggling to swim, reported the sighting to zoo volunteers. We immediately notified the sea turtle hotline (1-866-TURTLE-5). Soon, we received instruction to monitor the turtle and have someone stay with it and report any changes. From the shore, it appeared that the green sea turtle was entangled in fishing line and was struggling to free itself. As we awaited, the turtle appeared to becoming more stressed and more entangled. As it fought to get free, it only exacerbated the problem. After thoughtful deliberation and safety planning, it was decided that if this turtle was to survive, it would be absolutely necessary to enter the water and extract the turtle. It is never recommended for members of the public to enter the water to extract a turtle due to the in-water dangers that exist. However, given the circumstances, Heather (the leader of our group) and I waded out to it without hesitation, cut it free, and brought it back to shore where we could monitor it. Shortly thereafter, biologists from NOAA arrived and provided the care the sea turtle needed, bringing it back to their facility in Galveston for rehabilitation. When the fate of another living being is resting quite literally in your hands, the importance of such clean-up efforts hits you on an entirely different level. It is no longer just about picking up trash – it is about how even the smallest of actions can help to prevent a potential life or death situation.

Houston Zoo staff and intern rescue a green sea turtle entangled in discarded fishing line.
Houston Zoo staff and intern rescue a green sea turtle entangled in discarded fishing line.
Green sea turtle flipper entangled in discarded fishing line.
Green sea turtle flipper entangled in discarded fishing line.
Ball of fishing line mixed with seaweed. Discarded fishing line is a major threat to animals like sea turtles who can become entangled in it, making it difficult for them to swim and find food.
Ball of fishing line mixed with seaweed. Discarded fishing line is a major threat to animals like sea turtles who can become entangled in it, making it difficult for them to swim and find food.

Tired from the endeavor, we began our trek back to the picnic benches to sort through the waste we had collected. We couldn’t help but scan the jetty walls as we walked. After saving that turtle, could we really call it a day when there was more trash to be collected? It was like an itch that had to be scratched – we immediately jumped back into action, picking up pieces as we went. By the end nine of us had collected 70 lbs of recycling, 89 lbs of trash, and 15 lbs of fishing line.

If nine of us could collect almost 200 lbs of waste in a day, imagine the difference we could all make if everyone picked up a piece of trash each day and disposed of it properly. Just one simple action could mean the difference between seeing a sea turtle in distress and seeing it swim freely. With only one percent of sea turtle hatchlings reaching adulthood the turtles in our Texas waters have overcome incredible odds – let’s do our part to keep them healthy!

Successful rescue of a green sea turtle on the Surfside Jetty! If you see a sea turtle on the beach or in need of help, please report it by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5.
Successful rescue of a green sea turtle on the Surfside Jetty! If you see a sea turtle on the beach or in need of help, please report it by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5.

You can help save sea turtles and other ocean animals by:

  • Using re-usable bags and water bottles instead of plastic, which can end up in the ocean causing harm to animals!
  • If you fish, dispose of your used line at home, or in monofilament bins located along the coast at popular fishing spots – this will help to ensure that fishing line does not make its way back into the water
  • Pick up trash on daily walks or trips to the beach to help reduce the amount of debris that could make its way into our oceans!
  • Report any sea turtles on the beach to NOAA biologists at 1-866-TURTLE-5

 

 

6 Sea Turtles Receive Care at the Houston Zoo

Yesterday, our partners at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) brought 6 sea turtles to the Zoo’s veterinary clinic for medical care. 3 of the 6 sea turtles were loggerheads. 2 sea turtles were Kemp’s ridleys, and 1 sea turtle was a green. All turtles were radiographed and checked by Zoo veterinary staff.

One of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtles was accidentally caught on a fishing hook. Dr. Joe Flanagan removed the hook and the turtle will be rehabbed at NOAA’s facility in Galveston, and then released back into the wild. Unfortunately, this was the second time this summer that this turtle was caught by accident by a fishermen and reported to NOAA biologists! For this reason, it is important that all turtles are reported by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5, in the event that the turtle may have ingested several hooks, or have other medical issues that can’t be easily seen.

Houston Zoo vet team removing a fishing hook from a sea turtle caught by accident in Galveston
Houston Zoo vet team removing a fishing hook from a sea turtle caught by accident in Galveston
Hook successfully removed!
Hook successfully removed!

The second Kemp’s ridley that visited the Zoo was a post-hatchling, meaning it hatched from its egg just this summer! As you can see, at this age, sea turtles are tiny and can become prey to many different species living in or near the ocean. This Kemp’s ridley has a flipper injury and will be rehabilitated by NOAA biologists until it is healthy enough for release.

Kemp's ridley hatchling
Kemp’s ridley post-hatchling

The green sea turtle who visited the Zoo was also accidentally caught, but did not require a hook removal. It was given x-rays and will be moved to NOAA Galveston for further care.

Green sea turtle brought to the Zoo by NOAA biologists to receive medical care
Green sea turtle brought to the Zoo by NOAA biologists to receive medical care

You can help our local sea turtle population by reporting injured, stranded, dead,or nesting sea turtles by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5. Another way to help is by reducing your use of plastic-bottles, bags, balloons, you name it! These items often end up in our ocean and sea turtles mistake them for food, like jellyfish. When ingested, sea turtles can become sick. If we replace plastic items with reusable items (bags and bottles) and avoid releasing balloons, we can protect sea turtles in their natural habitat! In addition, you can help by placing your discarded fishing line in recycling bins, rather than leaving it on the ground or in the water. This will help prevent animals like sea turtles and birds from becoming entangled in the line.

Galapagos Conservation Partner Furthers his Education in Belize!

The Houston Zoo works to save animals around the world, and we are able to do that because of our nearly 2.5 million annual guests who visit us. One of the biggest aspects of our conservation work is to support communities around the world that live next to wildlife. By providing them training, tools, and the ability to develop their skills-they can then protect the animals that are native to their area. The Houston Zoo partners with Ecology Project International (EPI) in Galapagos-a conservation education program that takes youth from the Galapagos Islands out into nature to conduct field research, and learn about the incredible species that call the Galapagos Islands home. Because of your ticket purchases to enter the Zoo, we have been able to provide funding to one of the EPI staff to further his education and receive a Master’s degree from Miami University of Ohio through the Project Dragonfly/Global Field Program. Read below to hear in his own words, about his experience in his first field course in Belize.

My name is Juan Sebastián Torres, I’m an Ecuadorian guy that lives in the Galápagos Islands and just a few months ago I was able to start a Master´s Program with Miami University as part of a Fellowship between the Houston Zoo and Miami´s graduate program called Project Dragonfly-the Global Field Program.

Juan Sebastian Torres, one of the Zoo's conservation partners from the Galapagos Islands, visits Belize to further his education!
Juan Sebastian Torres, one of the Zoo’s conservation partners from the Galapagos Islands, visits Belize to further his education!

As part of the program a field course in Belize – Central America took place at the end of June. In Belize, me and a group of 23 students from the US had the amazing opportunity to explore unique places in this little country. Belize’ s Zoo and its Tropical Education Center were our base homes, what a great place to begin this journey. At the Tropical Education Center the Savanna Forest was a new world to me and I was excited for all the wildlife nearby, lots of birds, iguanas, snakes and even small mammals like agoutis were wandering around. Among many of the activities we did in this site we had the opportunity to be a part of a research activity about Yellow headed Parrots and learn about the conservation challenges that these birds face.

JuanSe visiting the Belize Zoo!
JuanSe visiting the Belize Zoo!

The baboon sanctuary was another place I had the opportunity to explore. It was very interesting to see how this community manages itself to live in harmony with Howler Monkeys and at the same time do many economical activities that involved the conservation of this species, no doubt a great example of community-based conservation. This community gave me and the rest of my partners the opportunity of a local home stay experience; we all were located with different families and spent one night together. This shared time with a host family provided a great cultural immersion to learn more about Belize and its inhabitants and their culture. After the time spent at baboon community we headed to “Altun Ha”, an archeological Maya site that preserves pyramids and other ancient buildings built by this unique civilization.

The field course participants at the baboon sanctuary-a location dedicated to conserving howler monkeys.
The field course participants at the baboon sanctuary-a location dedicated to conserving howler monkeys.

Afterwards we went to Tobacco Key, a little island on the coast; part of the Great Caribbean barrier reef.  At this place we explored the coral reef, what an extraordinary biodiversity; I was totally overwhelmed every time I got my head into the water. During the time on the Key we did research on different topics, my group studied the change of behavior that fish species have with human presence, very interesting and funny. We had the opportunity to visit the Smithsonian Research Station nearby, it was great to see their facilities and learn the research they do.

Tobacco Caye, Belize
Tobacco Caye, Belize
Juan Sebastian conducting marine transects to find out more about fish behavior in Belize.
Juan Sebastian conducting marine transects to find out more about fish behavior in Belize.

Many inquiry activities were part of this experience, the ones that were already mentioned above and others I was able to be part of; for example a very curious study about Spider Monkey behavior at Belize Zoo and Epiphytes abundance on palm trees at the Tropical Education Center.

We had the opportunity to learn about other research projects and the people behind them, for example we knew Jamal, a person better known as the Manatee Man and who provided us great information about manatees and the conservation efforts behind them. We went with Jamal to look for manatees near the coastal zone of Belize City, it was a unique experience to observe this incredible animal and even more rewarding to know how Jamal is struggling for their conservation. A similar example was another man called Celso, who showed us the work he is doing for the conservation of tapirs, the iconic animal of Belize.

Jamal-a Belizean committed to saving local manatees!
Jamal-a Belizean committed to saving local manatees!
Signs in the waters of Belize telling boaters to slow down to protect this species.
Signs in the waters of Belize telling boaters to slow down to protect this species.

All these inquiry activities came with the guidance of our incredible instructors Jill Korach and Joshua Meyer who did a terrific job surfing through all of our doubts and questions and providing vital knowledge and guidance with the topics assigned to study on this course.

No doubt I took a lot back home, I have many ideas in my mind that could be implemented not only in the Galápagos Islands but in Ecuador as well, I feel very passionate about community-based conservation and citizen science. I will probably do my Master´s Plan on this topic.

After this experience I only have a lot of gratitude with all the people that supported me to be part of such life experience. Thank you!

Sea Lion Staff Make a Wild Impact

You may have heard the news of our adorable female sea lion pup that was recently born at the Houston Zoo. What you may not know is that in between caring for our sea lions, training them, conducting keeper chats, and engaging zoo guests, our sea lion staff is also working additional hours to create a healthier ocean for wildlife right here in Texas.

The Sea Lion Staff assists an ongoing fishing line recycling program which aims to reduce the fishing line on the Surfside Jetty in Surfside, Texas while providing an opportunity for other Zoo staff and volunteers to get involved in work outside our Zoo gates. This program was created through NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the Sea Grant at Texas A&M University’s Monofilament Recovery & Recycling Program. Fishing line is a hazard to wildlife such as sea turtles, fish, rays, dolphins, and shore birds because it can entangle animals, making it hard for them to swim or fly and find food. The Sea Lion Staff conducts monthly cleanups on the Surfside Jetty, removing and recycling fishing line from the monofilament bins, as well as collecting line that is caught in between the rocks. In addition to the fishing line, they also recover trash and recyclables.

Zoo staff cleaning up the Surfside Jetty.
Zoo staff cleaning up the Surfside Jetty.

Here are their accomplishments so far:

• Began program in August 2014 
• Pounds of fishing line recycled to date – 94 lbs
• Pounds of other trash and recycled items collected to date – trash: 592 lbs, recycling: 429 lbs
• Number of staff and volunteers involved to date – 22 staff, 3 interns, 20 volunteers
• Number of different departments involved to date – 14 Zoo departments

Zoo staff removing discarded fishing line and debris from the Surfside Jetty so it does not end up entangling/harming ocean animals.
Zoo staff removing discarded fishing line and debris from the Surfside Jetty so it does not end up entangling/harming ocean animals.

The Sea Lion Staff became extremely passionate about the issue of marine debris after working with one of our previous sea lions, Astro. Astro was a California sea lion that came to us with a wound on his neck, possibly from becoming entangled in marine debris, possibly a carelessly discarded fishing net or fishing line. After working alongside Astro, the Sea Lion team dedicated their time off, weekends, and work time to reduce the threat of marine debris and entanglement on ocean animals.

Astro the sea lion was an ambassador for his species-bringing awareness to the problem of marine debris.
Astro the sea lion was an ambassador for his species-bringing awareness to the problem of marine debris.

If you visit the sea lions at the Houston Zoo, you may get a chance to see a replica fishing line recycling bin and hear about how you can help save ocean animals here in Texas. Our sea lions are not only ambassadors for our ocean-friendly seafood initiative, but they also help us tell the story of marine debris and the dangers of discarded fishing line in our oceans. You can help protect ocean animals by making sure your fishing line doesn’t end up in the water-instead, place it in a monofilament recycling bin! These bins can be found all along the Upper Texas Coast.

Look for fishing line recycling bins like this one when you are out fishing in the Galveston area! You can discard your fishing line here.
Look for fishing line recycling bins like this one when you are out fishing in the Galveston area! You can discard your fishing line here.

Green sea turtle rehabilitating in Kipp Aquarium

A green sea turtle has taken up temporary residence at the Houston Zoo! You can find the green sea turtle in the Kipp Aquarium.

Come visit the Kipp Aquarium to see a wild green sea turtle being rehabilitated!
Come visit the Kipp Aquarium to see a wild green sea turtle being rehabilitated!

This sea turtle was accidentally caught by a fisherman. The turtle was reported and biologists from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) responded and brought the turtle to the Houston Zoo to be rehabilitated until it is ready to be released into the wild.

When a sea turtle is reported and picked up by NOAA biologists, information is taken on the individual so staff can keep track of when it came in, when it is released, its' size, etc.
When a sea turtle is reported and picked up by NOAA biologists, information is taken on the individual so staff can keep track of when it came in, when it is released, its’ size, etc.

The turtle may be ready to be released by the end of the summer, so there is a possibility it will only be at the Zoo for a short time. NOAA staff will determine when the sea turtle is ready to be released. Thanks to NOAA, Houston Zoo clinic, and aquarium staff for ensuring this turtle’s recovery and future release back into the ocean!

We hope you can visit our temporary sea turtle resident soon. You can help save sea turtles in the wild by:

  • Reducing your usTake Action_Logo_FullColor_webe of plastic. Switch from plastic grocery bags to reusable bags. Plastic grocery bags are lightweight and can blow into our waterways/bayous, ending up in the ocean. Animals like sea turtles mistake these bags for food like jellyfish. When plastic is ingested, sea turtles can become quite sick. By reducing your plastic use, you are helping to save marine animals like sea turtles.
  • Choose only ocean-friendly seafood in restaurants and the grocery store. The way our seafood is caught or farmed can be harmful to wildlife like sea turtles. Download the FREE Seafood Watch App on your phone, which will help tell you the best choice seafood to buy and eat.

9 Sea Turtles Visit the Houston Zoo for Medical Care

Over the past 2 days, our conservation partners at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)-Galveston brought 9 sea turtles to the Zoo’s vet clinic to receive medical care.

2 of the 9 sea turtles were loggerheads. These juvenile loggerheads were looked over by vet staff and given medications. They will be treated back to health at NOAA’s facility in Galveston.

6 of the 9 turtles were kemp’s ridleys. All 6 of these turtles were reported to NOAA because they were accidentally caught on recreational fishing hooks. Sea turtles will often eat bait from fishermen because it is an easy meal, however they can get caught and injured on the hooks and line. If reported by the public, like these turtles, the hooks can be removed and the turtles can be rehabilitated and released to the wild. NOAA was able to remove 3 of the hooks before arriving at the Zoo, 2 hooks were removed by Houston Zoo vet staff, and one turtle showed no signs of having an internal hook. Additionally, one of the hook and line turtles had small lesions on its’ flipper that were treated by the vet staff.

Kemp's ridley sea turtle visiting the Zoo's vet clinic to get x-rays to make sure there were no additional internal hooks.
Kemp’s ridley sea turtle visiting the Zoo’s vet clinic to get x-rays to make sure there were no additional internal hooks.
Kemp's ridley sea turtle getting x-rays at the Houston Zoo's vet clinic
Kemp’s ridley sea turtle getting x-rays at the Houston Zoo’s vet clinic.
Kemp's ridley sea turtle caught by accident on hook and line. This turtle is being prepped to have the hook removed.
Kemp’s ridley sea turtle caught by accident on hook and line. This turtle is being prepped to have the hook removed.
Hook removal in progress at the Houston Zoo's vet clinic.
Hook removal in progress at the Houston Zoo’s vet clinic.
Large hook successfully removed! This sea turtle will now be rehabilitated by the team of biologists at NOAA-Galveston.
Large hook successfully removed! This sea turtle will now be rehabilitated by the team of biologists at NOAA-Galveston.

The final turtle to be seen by medical staff today was a small green sea turtle that was found wedged between rocks on the beach. It appeared very tired and in need of medical care. Houston Zoo vet staff prescribed medication and the turtle will be rehabilitated by NOAA staff in Galveston until healthy enough to be released.

Green sea turtle found in rocks on upper Texas coast. If you see a sea turtle please report it by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5.
Green sea turtle found in rocks on upper Texas coast. If you see a sea turtle please report it by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5.

We are so fortunate to have sea turtles in our Texas waters, and it is easy for us to all be sea turtle conservation heroes! A few simple actions taken by our community can help protect sea turtles in the wild:

  1. If you accidentally catch a sea turtle while fishing, please call 1-866-TURTLE-5 so a biologist can come out and respond to the turtle-giving it adequate care and attention.
  2. Switch from plastic grocery bags to reusable grocery bags-our plastic bags are light and fly away easily. They can end up in our bayous and float to the ocean. Sea turtles mistake them for jellyfish, and when ingested can make them sick.
  3. If you eat seafood, choose ocean-friendly seafood! Download the FREE Seafood Watch app to use on your phone. It will help tell you what seafood is best to eat because it is caught or farmed in an ocean-friendly way that protects wildlife like sea turtles, dolphins, and sharks.
    1. Apple Store
    2. Google Play

For more ways to help save wildlife, visit our Take Action page!

Search Blog & Website
[jetpack_subscription_form title="Subscribe to the Blog" subscribe_text="Enter your email address to subscribe and receive new blog posts by email."]
Houston Zoo Facebook Page

We're celebrating Pollinator Palooza presented by Whole Foods Market until 3 p.m. today! Join us for music and dancing, pollinator puppet shows, and learn how YOU can help save pollinators like bees, butterflies, bats, and more. ... See MoreSee Less

2

Were celebrating Pollinator Palooza presented by Whole Foods Market until 3 p.m. today! Join us for music and dancing, pollinator puppet shows, and learn how YOU can help save pollinators like bees, butterflies, bats, and more.

Comment on Facebook

We had a great time, despite the rain.

Animals In Action

Recent Videos

Oops, something went wrong.