a man and woman examine a turtle on a table
Tortie is fitted with her satellite tracker at the Turtle Hospital. ANDY NEWMAN/Florida Keys News Bureau

A juvenile green sea turtle rehabilitated at the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital was fitted with a satellite-tracking transmitter and released from Sombrero Beach on July 15 to join the 15th annual Tour de Turtles, a marathon-like “race” that follows the long-distance migration of sea turtles over three months.

The educational outreach program is organized annually by the Sea Turtle Conservancy to raise awareness about sea turtles and threats to their survival.

“Tortie,” named by her rescuers, is swimming to raise awareness about her affliction. She was found Dec. 1, 2021, unable to dive and suffering from fibropapillomatosis — a debilitating tumor-causing disease that develops from a herpes-like virus that affects sea turtle species around the world. 

After Tortie’s tumors were removed, following multiple surgeries, the turtle’s recovery included broad-spectrum antibiotics, fluids, vitamins and a diet of mixed seafood and greens. Tortie weighed about 25 pounds the morning she was released.

“One sea turtle can make a difference, not only going back to the ocean and having baby sea turtles, but the bigger reach is helping people to care about sea turtles and our oceans,” said Bette Zirkelbach, general manager of the Turtle Hospital.

Hundreds of spectators broke out in delighted applause when Tortie swam away from Marathon’s Sombrero Beach into the Atlantic Ocean.

Online monitoring – at www.TourDeTurtles.org – for Tortie and another 11 hard-shell turtles that have been released begins Aug. 1 and ends on Oct. 31. 

“In addition to the educational aspect of the Tour de Turtles, we’re also learning about where these turtles are going and then be able to look and see if there are any threats that the turtles face in these areas,” said Dan Evans, senior research biologist with the Sea Turtle Conservancy.