Grant: 19-034C
Project Title: C.A.R.E Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital Endoscopic and Sterilization Equipment
Project Manager: Rebecca Wells
Organization: Gulfarium C.A.R.E. Foundation (Non-Profit Organization)
Grant Amount: $15,178.83
Completion Date: 2020-06-10

Summary: The Gulfarium C.A.R.E. Foundation rehabilitates and releases stranded sea turtles along the Gulf Coast of Florida and frequently is called upon as a rehabilitation facility for neighboring states such as Alabama. Purchasing and incorporating a rigid endoscopy system within our sea turtle hospital will improve our diagnostic capabilities as well as reduce the need for invasive surgery in cases where there is a simple fishing hook ingestion. This will in turn reduce the time to recovery and exposure to humans providing their care. We will improve our standard of care with the addition of a gas sterilizer that can sterilize equipment that is unable to go into the autoclave. Endoscopic retrieval will allow more patients to be returned quickly to the wild without having the more than one-month surgical recovery period. We hope to additionally identify the cause of illness in some individuals in which bloodwork or plain radiographs do not demonstrate a clear problem, for example ingest debris including plastic or other gastrointestinal disease. The camera ability will allow us to diagnose and treat as well as capture images that can be useful in educating the public about the hazards of marine debris. These activities will increase the success of our sea turtle rehabilitation and release program.

Results: The Gulfarium CARE Foundation has purchased a 30-degree oblique 5.0 mm x 29 cm rigid endoscope with a high definition video capturing system. This also includes a trocar, biopsy and grasping forceps for tissue manipulation. Our initial proposal was for a smaller sized scope (2.7 mm x 18 cm), however after reviewing our typical caseload we decided that the larger scope would potentially be used more often with our specific patient demographics. We may purchase a smaller one in the future. Included in this system, we have purchased a portable laptop computer for viewing and storing the endoscopic images. We have purchased a gas sterilizer to sterilize equipment that will be used for surgery, anesthesia and treatments. It has been tested but will be permanently installed once our new treatment room is ready. From May 2019 to April 2020 the CARE Foundation treated thirty-six sea turtles including seven Kempís ridley, twelve loggerhead and seventeen green sea turtles. Our center has been closed for incoming patients since November due to remodeling of the rehabilitation pools so our numbers were a bit lower this year. We had a greater caseload of severe traumas and a smaller number of fishing hook ingestions compared to last year. It took some time to coordinate with an endoscope equipment supplier in order to purchase the unit, so at this time, we have not had a case in which to utilize the new equipment. Thirty-five sea turtles were released back into the Gulf of Mexico during this timeframe, some of which started their rehabilitation prior to May 1, 2019. One loggerhead was deemed non-releasable and transferred for permanent placement and one loggerhead was transferred to another facility for further care.