Lifeguard chief jumps from pier to rescue entangled turtle

By on June 29, 2014

turtle

A bystander helps David Elder free the turtle. (Courtesy, David Elder)

Kill Devil Hills Ocean Rescue Director Dave Elder jumped off Avalon Pier Sunday morning with fins and a knife to rescue a struggling loggerhead turtle that was entangled in fishing gear and an anti-freeze jug several hundred yards offshore.

Elder said the call came from pier patrons who saw the turtle surfacing but unable to submerge.

“Someone could see it come up to breath, but it couldn’t stay under for any period,” Elder said.

The turtle was still powerful, but it was clear the gear had zapped some strength out of it and it hadn’t eaten enough for some time, he said.

Elder swam the turtle in and was met by Kill Devil Hills Fire Department Sgt. Jon Gates, who helped haul the animal onto the beach. After cutting off the entangled debris, Ocean Rescue crew members took the 85-pound loggerhead to their Ocean Bay station, where they were met by Network for Endangered Sea Turtle volunteers.

The loggerhead was taken for treatment to the new Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation Center at the North Caolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.

“He was very active, and unless any medical issues show up on his blood work, he will be released pretty quickly,” N.E.S.T. Sea Turtle Rescue & Education Committee Chair Elaine Lubosch said. “When I left, he was soaking to remove the barnacles and some leeches.”

Last week, Elder swam in another loggerhead in an attempted rescue at Woodmere Avenue. The turtle, he said, appeared to have been injured by a fishing vessel. After placing it on a backboard and transporting it to the station, N.E.S.T. volunteers determined that its injuries were too extensive and it was euthanized on site.

Injuries like these, says Elder, are largely due to turtles being the victims of poor interactions with humans. The ocean rescue director works closely with N.E.S.T. volunteers. He said that in his ocean rescue career, this is one of nearly a dozen turtles he has helped out of the ocean. He recalls his first response was for a turtle in Kitty Hawk years ago, but since then he has learned how to maneuver an injured turtle to shore.

“When I bring a turtle out, everyone wants to know if it is going to live, what happened to it and what it is,” Elder said. “But we don’t know. We can say what we think it is, but the reason that this happens is that we are bad neighbors. People need to understand that every decision we make can have an unrecognized negative impact on marine life.

“We live on the edge of the wilderness. So we all need to do the best we can to be good neighbors.”

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