MIAMI — A loggerhead sea turtle that has lived at the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital for about 16 months is on it its way via FedEx to a “forever home” near San Diego.
“Sapphire” arrived early Thursday morning at Fed Ex’s Miami cargo facility in the hospital’s ambulance after a trip up the Florida Keys Overseas Highway. She departed on the 2,500-mile sojourn to The Living Coast Discovery Center just after 9 a.m. ET. The turtle is to layover for a few hours in Memphis and then be loaded on another aircraft for the final leg of the journey to San Diego. The aircraft carrying Sapphire is expected to arrive at San Diego airport at 5 p.m. PT Thursday.
The 129-pound subadult female cannot be released into the ocean because it can’t dive without two pounds of weights (seen at 00:45-00:50) glued to its shell. As the turtle continues to grow, the weights will fall off and new weights must be attached.
Hospital founder Richie Moretti and manager Bette Zirkelbach are accompanying the turtle in order to monitor its health and comfort.
“Sapphire” was first rescued in February 2010 with a wound that came from a boat strike. It was then known as “Leoni,” named after a street near the Keys canal where it was discovered. It was treated for 45 days at the hospital and freed after it appeared the turtle had made a full recovery. But in May 2013, it was discovered floating again off the Keys.
Soon after, Florida wildlife officials decided the turtle could not be released and required a permanent home.”
Of the 1,400 turtles the Turtle Hospital has treated and freed in the past 28 years, “Sapphire” is the only one that has returned, hospital records show.
Sapphire’s new home is to be a 21,000-gallon temperate ocean water tank, with a large acrylic underwater viewing area offering visitors the opportunity to get close to “Sapphire” and other marine creatures. Educational messaging will explain the need to protect loggerheads and other sea turtles around the world.