Wild Sea Turtles Receive Care at Houston Zoo Vet Clinic

On February 26th Houston Zoo wildlife partners at NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) brought in several wild sea turtles for medical care.

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A wild Kemp’s ridley sea turtle gets an x-ray.
A green sea turtle getting medical care at the Houston Zoo
A green sea turtle getting medical care at the Houston Zoo.

These sea turtles were looked over by the Houston Zoo’s vet team and will be rehabilitated at NOAA’s sea turtle barn in Galveston until they are ready to be released into the wild.

On March 23rd, an additional green sea turtle visited the Zoo’s vet clinic. This turtle had obvious boat wounds and will need plenty of care before it can return to the wild. As the turtle was receiving care, the Zoo’s vet staff noticed that not only did it have a boat wound, but the turtle also had parts of a fishing hook in the front left flipper. Dr. Joe at the Zoo’s clinic removed the hook and provided care to the carapace (shell) before the turtle returned to Galveston for rehabilitation by NOAA staff.

A green sea turtle is checked by Houston Zoo Vet staff
A green sea turtle is checked by Houston Zoo Vet staff
Don’t worry, we don’t use band aids! This one is just Phototshopped in for the photo.

We are just beginning the sea turtle nesting season in Texas. If you happen to see sea turtle tracks, a nesting sea turtle, or an injured/sick/stranded turtle on the beach, please report it to 1-866-TURTLE-5. In addition, if you are fishing and accidentally catch a sea turtle, please also report it to this number! SeaTurtleSticker_outline

Helping Wildlife…With Paint!

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Paint and Wildlife

The Houston Zoo cares about animals in the wild, and is taking steps to ensure that everything we do on Zoo grounds is done with wild animals in mind. A simple effort like being aware of what types of paints we use has a surprisingly large impact on wildlife because it impacts their natural environment.

Paints can have harsh chemicals that affect the air we all breathe, or if you dispose of leftover paint improperly, it can get into the streams and waters wildlife like sea turtles call home.

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Help our local sea turtles by being aware of what’s going into their water.

Paint and the Houston Zoo

Recently the Zoo used environmentally friendly paint to label the storm drains behind the scenes as a reminder that the cleaner we keep our waters, the healthier our wildlife. Storm water drains are a part of all cities, helping alleviate flood waters that build up during storms and are meant only to have rainwater since Houston storm drains lead right back out to our bayous, and eventually flow to the Gulf of Mexico.

Storm Drain Action Shot
Storm water drains being painted at the Houston Zoo!

For our storm drain project we were able to visit New Living to source paint that is water-based and contains no volatile organic compounds in both the paint and paint pigments. These compounds, called VOCs, are immediately noticed as the intense “paint smell” that can give you a fast headache. This smell is from chemicals that people should not breathe, and animals should not have in their water supply. The paint that New Living offers allows us to be sure that when we‘re using paint for projects, we have the option to choose a product that is made in a more environmentally friendly way, contains less harsh chemicals, and if ever exposed to the environment would not impact it harshly like with traditional paints.

As a Zoo-Based Conservation organization, we have chosen to include no-VOC paint whenever possible to ensure all operations of the Zoo are done in a way that is friendly for wildlife. The Houston Zoo aims to be a leader in being a part of these new and innovative practices that are conscious of our wildlife and our interactions with the natural world we all live in.

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You can help save wildlife too!

  • If you are using paint that contains VOCs, be sure to wear safety masks and take any remainder paint to a hazardous waste facility. In Houston, you can take this kind of paint (like oil-based paint) to the West Park Consumer Recycling Center located in Houston. If you have-water based paint, you can let the paint dry (often people will mix it with cat litter for a faster drying process) and toss the dry paint in the trash for regular pick-up. 
  • Next time you buy paint, ask for no-VOC paint to ensure the products you are using are safe for wildlife. Visit stores like New Living to ensure you are purchasing wildlife-friendly products.

This is a sustainability reference document. 

Saving Wildlife with Robotics!

The Houston Zoo cares about animals in the wild and is working within our global community to help wildlife. There are many ways to affect wildlife, and we work with all types of groups that are using innovative and effective ways to keep our world healthy for all of its inhabitants.seaturtle_DK

Something that all of our friends, groups, partners, and even visitors have in common is trash, plastics in particular…but what does that have to do with saving wildlife? Our wild animals come into contact with a lot of our trash; our friends in Africa have seen giant elephants grab plastic bags that are tangled in grasses thinking that it’s food, and our local friends in Galveston have seen our Texas sea turtles eat plastic bags floating in the ocean because they look like a tasty jellyfish.

This league is connecting two areas that don’t seem like they’d work together, robotics and waste, to make a beautiful solution to help save wildlife! There are some innovative ways that robots can help us to protect wildlife, from using drones to gauge poaching areas to creating robotic fish that measure ocean health, and this league is a group of students that is putting their brains together to come up with more ways that robotics can help our animals and our Earth. This is the first installation of a blog series that will track what the league is doing, why they are doing it, and how you can help out too!

Please welcome our guest bloggers for this series, the Jersey Voltage Purple FIRST Lego League Robotics Team:


 

JV Lego Team 1

Hi there! We are the Jersey Voltage Purple FIRST Lego League (FLL) robotics team. We are a team of 10 students who live in Jersey Village, Texas and we are here to not only talk about trash (plastics in particular); but we are here to clean it up or at the least create excitement and awareness of the world’s plastics. We’re working on a project now, so photos are to come, but below you can check out why we chose to focus on plastics and see some great pictures of us while in the brainstorming stage!

Did you know that the very first plastic was developed in Britain way back in 1862, and plastics were exhibited at the Great Exhibition in London?! Plastics are used in many important ways that help humans and animals stay healthy, like in the medical field, and use of plastics exploded in the first decade after World War II. Just in the past 30 years, the plastic industry has gotten huge and includes many plastic products that could potentially be replaced by reusable items, like reusable water bottles or plastic bags.

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This explosion of the use of plastics greatly impacts our eco-system and affects our wildlife. All of us have used many water bottles in our lifetime, but how many of those bottles have been made of plastic? Last year, the average American used 167 disposable plastic water bottles, but only recycled 38. Do you know how many get into our eco-system? Of the millions of water bottles used every day, most of them will eventually end up in an animal’s environment. So we’re here to help. Many people are trying to limit the amount of plastic they use, and some have come up with some pretty creative solutions to this somewhat overwhelming problem!

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Take Action Now: You can save wildlife today by using a reusable tote for your groceries instead of single-use plastic bags. You can also exchange your single-use plastic bottles for a long-term refillable bottle. Visit the Houston Zoo’s Take Action page and find out what else you can do!

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In our next blog we will tell you about a few ideas that we uncovered in our research and what we’ve been working on with our robotics to help save wildlife! So stay tuned, more to come and plenty to do!

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Founded in 1989 and based in Manchester, NH, FIRST is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit public charity designed to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology, and to motivate them to pursue education and career opportunities in STEM fields.

 

This is a sustainability reference document. 

The Houston Zoo Launches our First-Ever Comic Book!

At the Houston Zoo we are passionate about the animals in our care, the animals they represent in the wild, and the challenges they face in their native homes. One of the biggest responsibilities we have at the Zoo is to tell the stories of wildlife around the globe, connect them to our animals at the Zoo, and encourage our community to take action to help!

comic book coverLocally, the Houston Zoo is very proud of our partnership with numerous organizations to save sea turtles. To celebrate the achievements of our local community in saving sea turtles, the Houston Zoo designed a comic book to tell this important conservation story in a fun and interesting way! The comic book, “Saving Wildlife: Sea Turtle Edition” focuses on a family visiting Galveston who happens to find an injured sea turtle that needs help. You’ll have to pick up your very own copy of the comic book in the Zoo’s Naturally Wild Swap Shop to find out the rest of the story, but you will not be disappointed! Simply visit the Zoo’s Swap Shop (in the Children’s Zoo) and say this secret code (tortuga power!to receive your copy of this limited edition comic book!

Make sure to check out the back inside cover page where you can learn how to take action to help save sea turtles locally. By filling out this page and bringing it back to the Zoo’s Naturally Wild Swap Shop (open daily 9:00 – 11:45 a.m. and 1:00 – 3:45 p.m.) you can earn points to be used to swap for cool items like rocks, fossils and bones!

emma comic book shot

What’s happening again?

What: Limited edition “Saving Wildlife: Sea Turtle Edition” comic book

Where: Houston Zoo’s Naturally Wild Swap Shop

Why: Learn about our local sea turtles, the challenges they face in the wild, what the Zoo and other partners are doing to help, and how you can help! Plus, you can earn points to use in the Swap Shop just by reading and learning from a comic book!

How: Visit the Swap Shop and say the secret code (tortuga power!to Houston Zoo staff to receive your comic book.

When: Comic books available starting today! The Swap Shop is open daily 9:00am-11:45 am and 1:00pm-3:45pm.

Our Sea Lion Team is Saving Marine Wildlife & You Can Too!

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Next time you visit the Zoo make sure you catch our sea lion presentations to hear how the sea lion team is organizing efforts to save marine animals in the wild! All of our animal care specialists love the animals they provide care for and feel a devotion to protecting their wild counterparts.

 

In the past year, the sea lion team has organized 11 trips with Zoo staff to Galveston and collected:

  • 140 lbs of fishing line from specially-designed bins placed along the jetties. These bins were built by the Zoo!
  • 140 lbs of recycling from the beach
  • 250 lbs of trash from the beach

 

sohie and bins
On the left is a monofilament bin and the right is a member of the sea lion team digging fishing line out of the rocks!

During these animal saving expeditions, they have talked to beach goers and fisherman about the importance of properly discarding fishing line in the designated containers along Galveston jetties so that the line does not blow into the ocean or onto the beaches. The Houston Zoo assists with the rehabilitation of approximately 85 stranded or injured wild sea turtles a year, with some of them showing injuries resulting from becoming entangled in the fishing line and other garbage.

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Please help us save wildlife by spreading the word. 

If you like to fish, know local fishermen, or like to spend time at the beach, make sure you tell everyone you can about how to save wildlife by:

  • Properly disposing of all fishing line in the designated bins
  • Properly sorting the recycling and garbage you find or bring to the beach
  • Calling 1-866-Turtle-5 (1-866-887-8535) if you happen to catch a sea turtle while fishing, or see an injured or stranded turtle.

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Thank you for protecting wildlife with us!

Saving Sea Turtles in the Gulf – Part 2

Lauren 2We’re back with more sea turtle-saving stories from Panama City! The Houston Zoo recently visited Florida with our partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to test turtle excluder devices (TEDs) for fisheries across the globe to incorporate into their shrimp nets. These TEDs are critical – and required by federal law – to ensure the safety of sea turtles while fishermen work to provide some of our favorite seafood, like shrimp!

Each year, about 200 sea turtles are driven to Florida from Galveston to test each TED, and about 25 turtles will attempt to swim through each TED. That’s a lot of turtles and swim time! Our partners at NOAA Galveston spend all year getting the sea turtles in their care ready for this critical work! This year, they allowed Houston Zoo staff to come along and observe the process of ensuring shrimp nets around the world are safe for sea turtles.

From Wednesday through Friday, Houston Zoo staff got aboard NOAA’s boat, the Caretta, and what a beautiful three days it was!  We arrived at NOAA’s Panama City, Florida site each day at 6 a.m. and immediately began preparing the turtles and the boats for the days’ adventures. This work included feeding those turtles that had already swum through the TED a delicious breakfast of squid and crating other turtles that would swim through an excluder device that day. Once everyone arrived to the site, we boarded the boat and headed out for a short 12-hour day on the water.

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So, how does it work? TED testing requires three different boats: the main boat where the sea turtles are released into the ocean, the dive boat where the three divers launch, and the catch boat where staff retrieve the sea turtles from the water after they’ve journeyed through the TED. We were able to experience each boat throughout the day, all the while hearing stories from all of the NOAA staff and learning why TEDs are so important to protect these threatened and endangered sea turtles.

In order for a TED to be approved and certified, a sea turtle must be able to make its way safely through the net in five minutes or less. Three divers are underwater with the shrimp net to document the turtle’s journey through the water and to ensure the turtle gets back on the boat. They take very detailed notes and video so the team can evaluate the turtles’ performances that day and whether or not they need to adjust the TED design.

After all of the turtle excluder devices have been tested, the Caretta returns back to its home in Pascagoula, Mississippi, and the loggerhead sea turtles are released back into the ocean.

Be sure to check back soon for more information on TED-testing and how YOU can help save sea turtles in the wild!

Saving Sea Turtles in the Gulf – Part 1

Greetings from Panama City! The Houston Zoo recently visited Florida with our partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to test turtle excluder devices (TEDs) for fisheries across the globe to incorporate into their shrimp nets. These TEDs are critical – and required by federal law – to ensure the safety of sea turtles while fishermen work to provide some of our favorite seafood, like shrimp!

Turtle excluder devices help protect sea turtles, like this guy, from shrimp nets!
Turtle excluder devices help protect sea turtles, like this guy, from shrimp nets!

Every summer NOAA staff spends three weeks in Panama City testing newly-constructed or tweaked TED designs that will, if approved, later be used by fishermen. Turtle excluder devices are used to allow fishermen to catch animals like shrimp, while excluding animals like sea turtles that may accidentally be caught in their nets.

Each year, about 200 sea turtles are driven to Florida from Galveston to test each TED, and about 25 turtles will attempt to swim through each TED. That’s a lot of turtles and swim time! The sea turtles are then released back into the wild after the weeks of TED testing.

Our partners at NOAA Galveston spend all year getting the sea turtles in their care ready for this critical work! This year, they allowed Houston Zoo staff to come along and observe the process of ensuring shrimp nets around the world are safe for sea turtles.

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The Zoo’s vet team provides veterinary care to sea turtles brought in from Galveston.

In addition to field work assistance in Panama City this summer, the Houston Zoo helps save sea turtles in a number of ways. One way the Zoo helps is by providing veterinary care to sea turtles brought in from Galveston, sometimes also housing rehabilitating sea turtles at the Zoo in the Kipp Aquarium. The Zoo also hosts sea turtle events at the Zoo to increase awareness, participates in weekly beach surveys to look for stranded or nesting sea turtles, and serves only ocean-friendly seafood to Zoo animals and guests!

Be sure to check back soon for more information on TED testing in Panama City!

Saving Sea Turtles on our Local Piers

An exciting program called the Responsible Pier Initiative has come to Galveston! This program is managed by the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Florida. Our friends at Turtle Island Restoration Network, NOAA, the Galveston Parks Board, Texas Parks and Wildlife, US Fish and Wildlife and Texas A & M Galveston all played a role in the installation of the signs yesterday and making this program happen.

The program aims to protect sea turtles by increasing awareness of those people fishing on piers of what to do in the event they accidentally catch a turtle. This is done through training programs with pier managers and sea turtle biologists as well as installing informational signage on participating piers.

Pier Signs in Galveston detailing how to help sea turtles
Pier Signs in Galveston detailing how to help sea turtles

Yesterday, 3 piers in Galveston joined the effort and new signage was installed to alert people fishing what to do if they catch a turtle. The piers include Seawolf Park, 61st Street Pier and Galveston Island Fishing Pier.

More signage detailing how to help sea turtles if they are accidentally caught on your fishing line
More signage detailing how to help sea turtles if they are accidentally caught on your fishing line

The signs were printed in English and Spanish and can now be seen the next time you visit one of these piers!

A hoop net is included for piers participating in this effort so sea turtles can safely be brought onto the shore if accidentally caught
A hoop net is included for piers participating in this effort so sea turtles can safely be brought onto the shore if accidentally caught
Partners from various local organizations who helped make this signage possible posed for a picture at Seawolf Park!
Partners from various local organizations who helped make this signage possible posed for a picture at Seawolf Park!

More than 50 Endangered Sea Turtles Set for Release

On Wednesday May 27, NOAA Fisheries, the Houston Zoo and Moody Gardens will release 51 sea turtles at Stewart Beach in Galveston, Texas. Forty-nine of the turtles are Kemp’s ridleys and were part of a group brought in last December after suffering from the cold in Cape Cod, New England. The Boston Aquarium sent the sick turtles to NOAA’s Galveston Sea Turtle Facility as well as 17 other sea turtle rehabilitation centers, zoos, and aquariums throughout the country. The other two turtles, one Kemp’s ridley and one loggerhead were already at the NOAA facility for treatment and rehabilitation.

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© Houston Zoo/Stephanie Adams

The turtles were part of a record setting cold stunning event which included a total of 1,200 turtles. They were dehydrated and emaciated due to the cold. Symptoms of cold stunning include a decreased heart rate, decreased circulation, lethargy, followed by shock, pneumonia and eventually death if not rescued.

© Houston Zoo/Stephanie Adams
© Houston Zoo/Stephanie Adams

Now, after months of rehabilitation and warmer temperatures, the turtles are ready to be returned to the wild. The release will take place promptly at 8am, Stewart Beach Park, 201 Seawall Blvd. in Galveston. The public is invited to come out and witness this exciting release. The normal parking fee for Stewart Beach will be waived for those who arrive before 9 am to attend the release.

Ben Higgins, who runs the NOAA Galveston Laboratory’s sea turtle program and Dr. Joe Flanagan, head veterinarian at The Houston Zoo, will be on hand to answer questions after the release. Dr. Flanagan is the attending veterinarian for all sea turtles rescued and rehabilitated by the NOAA Galveston Laboratory. A special thanks also to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for their help in getting the turtles to Galveston from Boston.

The Kemp’s ridley is the smallest and most endangered sea turtle in the world. For more on the Kemp’s ridley, please visit NOAA Fisheries fact page about the species.

Turtle Logos

Turtle Tuesday!

Yesterday, Houston Zoo staff participated in NOAA’s weekly beach survey, looking for injured or sick sea turtles on Bolivar Peninsula, Galveston Island and all the way to Surfside! This survey can take anywhere from 9-15 hours, but is vital in ensuring that any sea turtles on our local beaches are accounted for, and cared for if need be.

It was a cold and blustery day, and while we did not encounter any sea turtles we came across several deceased rays and HUGE jellyfish! Unfortunately, all of the jellyfish were already dead but they were fascinating to look at and study. We still do not know what species of jellyfish we encountered all over the beaches, so if you know-please tell us in the comments section below.

Giant jellyfish on the Texas Coast!
Giant jellyfish on the Texas Coast!
View from above. Can anyone identify this species?
View from above. Can anyone identify this species?

Spending time on our local beaches can provide some amazing insight into the species that live in our oceans, but we rarely have the opportunity to see. Unfortunately, jellyfish like the ones above look very similar to plastic bags floating in the ocean. They have similar movement patterns, floating up and down in the water column. Many sea turtles species mistake these plastic bags for a common food source of theirs (jellyfish) and consume them. We can all make a difference for sea turtles, sea birds, sharks and other marine species by avoiding the use of plastic bags and only using reusable bags. Check out our “This bag saved a sea turtle” or “This bag saved a sea lion” reusable bags in the Zoo’s gift shop-all proceeds from the sale of these bags go directly back to marine animals in the wild.

Sea turtle canvas bags available in our gift shop. All proceeds go towards sea turtles in the wild.
Sea turtle canvas bags available in our gift shop. All proceeds go towards sea turtles in the wild.

Another way to help is to join us for Save a Turtle Saturday on March 7th from 9:00am-1:00pm. Visit the Zoo during this special event to learn how the Houston Zoo works to save turtles around the world, and find out how you can make a difference to your local turtles. Save a Turtle Saturday focuses on the threats and dangers facing marine and land-based turtles around the world. During Save a Turtle Saturday, guests and children can participate in a variety of games and activities to learn more about the threats turtles face, and how you can help! All activities are free with Zoo admission.

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