Entangled 900-Pound Sea Turtle Rescued In Nantucket Harbor

Jason Graziadei •

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A 900-pound female leatherback sea turtle that was discovered severely entangled in Nantucket Harbor was freed Saturday afternoon by members of Coast Guard Station Brant Point.

The massive turtle was not only entangled, but was also dragging four full cinder blocks along the seafloor that were attached to the end of the lines.

Coast Guard Petty Officer Chad Austin said Station Brant Point received a call about the turtle Saturday afternoon from three friends who were out on a boat in the harbor - Mark Sousa, Ben Billings and Ryan Kopp.

The Coast Guard then contacted the Marine Mammal Alliance Nantucket, were briefed about the best practices for disentangling such a large animal, and set out to find the turtle in the station’s 24-foot shallow-water rescue boat.

When they arrived, Austin said they could see it was caught on five orange buoys and was struggling to swim.

“The line was wrapped around her neck and one of her fins, so we did our best to try to relieve the pressure with our boat hook,” Austin said.

They managed to get the line off her neck, and then cut the rest of it away from her body.

“It was the biggest turtle I’d ever seen and pretty amazing it had made it all the way to the Head of the Harbor,” Austin said.

After he had removed the lines, Austin said he began pulling them into the boat, and dragged up the four cinder blocks they were attached to. The turtle was last seen dipping beneath the water and swimming away

It was quickly determined by Saturday evening that the buoys and lines belonged to the Nantucket Natural Resources Department, and are part of its Brant Point Hatchery's scallop spat bags that are deployed in the harbor. Director Jeff Carlson called it a “freak” occurrence and the first known instance of the equipment causing an entanglement.

“Pretty surprised it happened given the number of spat bags we have deployed over the years," Carlson said. "We have reached out to a few other organizations (to ask) if there are ways to improve this common design to try and prevent this in the future as well. We have never had an entanglement before and the town and other organizations have probably deployed thousands of spat bags over the years."

The town hatchery's spat bags are routinely deployed in areas around the harbor to help measure the amount of Nantucket bay scallop larvae that is present. Larvae can swim in, attach to the material inside the bag, and are then unable to swim out after they have grown.

Austin, along with Coast Guard Station Petty Officers Adam Ridge, Steve Bugarin, and Tyler Covington participated in the rescue. They also credited Souza, Billings and Kopp for calling it in.

Leatherback sea turtles are the largest turtle species in the world, and are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Once in abundance in every ocean in the world except the Arctic and Antarctic, NOAA now estimates that the global population of leatherbacks has declined 40 percent over the past three generations.

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