Cutter Kodiak Island crew shells out support for living marine resources mission

Coast Guard Cutter Kodiak Island crewmembers prepare to release sea turtles off the North Carolina coast, Monday, Jan. 26, 2015.

The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Kodiak Island out of Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, in cooperation with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission and North Carolina Aquariums, helped release another batch of rehabilitated sea turtles Jan. 26 off the North Carolina coast, marking the second release event in about six weeks.

“As the operations officer, I can attest to the fact that Kodiak Island’s crew has been running hard since she arrived in North Carolina in May of 2014,” said Lt.j.g. David Kline. “We’ve been aggressive in a variety of mission sets, and saving sea turtles is no exception. We execute this mission with military precision, from the onload and steam offshore to the thermocline science in the drop zone. I guess you could say we’re working to become a Coast Guard authority on this particular mission.”

Released were 17 juvenile Kemp’s ridley turtles and 11 juvenile green turtles. Of these 28 turtles, 14 of the Kemp’s ridleys were found cold-stunned in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in late 2014. About 700 live turtles were found along the southern coast of Cape Cod, and the New England Aquarium called upon different facilities in different states to help with their rehabilitation. Several dozen turtles from New England were shipped to North Carolina in late November for rehab and eventual release.

“The remaining three Kemp’s ridleys and 11 greens were found cold-stunned around Hatteras Island, from late November 2014 through early January of this year,” said Matt Godfrey, a biologist for the NCWRC Sea Turtle Project. “These turtles use Pamlico Sound as foraging grounds in warmer months, and are supposed to leave when the water gets cold. Sometimes they can’t make it to the inlets before they succumb to the cold, and wash up hypothermic on the sound side of the island. We usually get 80-300 live turtles each year this way.”A rehabilitated sea turtle spends spends a final moment in the hands of Coast Guard Cutter Kodiak Island crewmembers prior to being released off the North Carolina coast, Monday, Jan. 26, 2015.

A refreshing mission to help break up the monotony of winter months on the water, the turtle releases have provided enjoyment and satisfaction for Kodiak Island crewmembers, giving them hands-on experience with the turtles and an opportunity to form new relationships with members from partner agencies.  Partnering with NCWRC and North Carolina Aquariums to help preserve and protect fragile marine life is something the crew takes very seriously – but it’s obvious they have a lot of fun while doing it.

“The turtles seemed apprehensive at first, but they soon came out of their shells,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Zac Hardin, a lead cook aboard the cutter. “I always make pizza for the crew on turtle release days.”

“We have improved our method of sea turtle water entry every time, and with the assistance of the NCWRC folks and North Carolina Aquarium personnel, we may have revealed our best release ramp design yet,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Arthur ‘Chuck’ Seckinger, a machinery technician from the crew. “It was basically a sea turtle slip and slide. I swear I heard one of the turtles yell ‘Cowabunga’ as he dove into the water!”

A Coast Guard family member releases a rehabilitated sea turtle from cutter Kodiak Island out of Atlantic Beach, N.C., off the the North Carolina coast, Dec. 15, 2014. The Coast Guard, in cooperation with the North Carolina Resources Commission, released a total of 19 rehabilitated sea turtles into the Gulf Stream off the coast of North Carolina. (Photo by Kevin E Geraghty)

“For a kid from Ohio who is new to the Coast Guard, the sea turtle release was a really fun and new experience,” said Seaman Wyatt J. Bess. “Our crew has been hard at work conducting boardings from sunrise to sunset, so the change of routine was a great relief as well. We were able to help some turtles and it put a big smile on everyone’s face.”

The crew of Cutter Kodiak Island was allowed to bring family aboard for the turtle release event on Dec. 15, 2014.

“I had a special time during the last turtle release with my family onboard,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua Kuhns, a ship’s electrician. “I tell my children ‘Dad has to go out in the ocean for a while,’ when I leave to get underway, but they never really understood what it meant until they left the pier aboard the Kodiak Island. That was their first experience out on the water and they had a great time. Luckily for them the sun was out and the seas were calm. My children love turtles and have two large tortoises of their own at home so they couldn’t wait to see the sea turtles be released. My children finally got to see what their dad did at work, though I told them we don’t get to do that every day.”

Coast Guard family members and civilian passengers about Coast Guard Cutter Kodiak Island out of Atlantic Beach North Carolina prepare to release a rehabilitated sea turtle off the North Carolina coast Dec. 15, 2014. The Coast Guard, in cooperation with the North Carolina Resources Commission, helped release a total of 19 rehabilitated sea turtles into the Gulf Stream off the coast of North Carolina including Kemp's ridley sea turtles, green sea turtles and a loggerhead sea turtle. (Photo by Kevin E Geraghty)

Approximately 25 turtles remain in rehab in North Carolina. NWRC Biologists and North Carolina Aquarium personnel are not sure when they will be ready to go back to the ocean, but the crew of Kodiak Island hopes to help out when the time comes.