On an early spring day in March 2018, Tonks, a juvenile Kemp’s Ridley seat turtle was taking a nap on the bottom of the Charleston Harbor. That nap in the dark depths of the busy shipping channel in Charleston, SC would change her future. Tonks was sucked into a dredge, being used to deepen the channel, and shot to surface, ascending over 50 feet in a matter of seconds. Most turtles do not survive the turbulence of a dredge.
The US Corp of Army Engineers found her and immediately notified SC Department of Natural Resources. Tonks was rushed to the Sea Turtle Care Center at the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston, SC. The medical team worked quickly to address the multiple abrasions over her shell, flippers, face, and eyes. A state-of-the-art CT scanner identified that Tonk’s lungs were unharmed from the rapid ascent, however, she had gas bubbles in her blood, central nervous system, and kidneys. This is decompression sickness, or the bends, and is deadly to humans or any other air breathing animal.
The medical team quickly assimilated a make shift decompression chamber out of a sealed cooler and high flow oxygen. After a few hours, Tonks began to improve, became more active, and was able to start the process of healing. She completed antibiotics, the abrasions healed and she gradually moved from a shallow tank to one 5 ½ feet deep. Tonks had to show the staff she could dive and hunt for food to be able to be released, and after several weeks in the big pool, she proved she was the little turtle that could. After all, at 9 ½ pounds, she had faced the odds and won.
On September 6, 2018, exactly 6 months to the day of her admission, Tonks was released back to the ocean. Her sendoff was a private release from the Isle of Palms County Park and she was cheered by the turtle guardians of the South Carolina Aquarium. As she was carried to the launch off point, she wiggled her flippers, so excited to have a second chance at life.
Thank you Sea Turtle Care Center, South Carolina Aquarium, and everyone else who works endlessly to save this precious endangered species.