Lost and Found Along the Cape Cod Coast

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the most common species to be stranded on Cape Cod.

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the most common species to be stranded on Cape Cod.

Volunteers rescue stranded sea turtles

Photos and text by LAUREN OWENS LAMBERT/ecoRI News contributor

Winters are harsh on the shores of Cape Cod. They’re not a place where you would expect to find tropical sea turtles. But each winter, greens, loggerheads and Kemp’s ridleys wash up stunned by the cold ocean temperatures and disoriented by the unfamiliar geography.

Tony LaCasse, of the New England Aquarium, calls the hook-like shape of the geography “The Deadly Bucket.”

Nick Picariello, a Mass Audubon volunteer, found a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle in Duck Harbor stunned and almost dead. Without being found and rushed to the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, the turtles would freeze to death on the sand.

Nick Picariello, a Mass Audubon volunteer, found a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle in Duck Harbor stunned and almost dead. Without being found and rushed to the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, the turtles would freeze to death on the sand.

With help from volunteers and biologists at Mass Audubon and the New England Aquarium, the turtles are rescued, rehabilitated and flown to warmer waters to be released. Turtle strandings averaged about 90 annually until 2014, when there was a record 700.

The most commonly found stranded species is also the most endangered, the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle.

“We are not sure why we are seeing an increase in strandings while also noticing an overall decline in population of ridleys,” said Connie Merigo, director of the New England Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Program, one of the oldest programs of its kind in the country.

Sea turtles are some of the world’s great navigators, but for this part of their journey a little help is needed.

A rescued sea turtle is fed small pieces of squid and fish from the end of a long metal rod in a tank at the New England Aquarium turtle rehabilitation center in Quincy, Mass.

A rescued sea turtle is fed small pieces of squid and fish from the end of a long metal rod in a tank at the New England Aquarium turtle rehabilitation center in Quincy, Mass.

Massachusetts resident Lauren Owens Lambert runs a photo journalist website.