Lake Wind Advisory issued November 23 at 2:25PM EST expiring November 23 at 7:00PM EST in effect for: Pinellas
Visit the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and you will get to say hello to Cocoa, a 110-pound sea turtle.
"She is blind, so she can't be released in the wild," trainer Adrienne Caldwell said.
Cocoa lost her sight after a boat's propeller severed her optical nerve.
"She can't forage to find her food anymore," Cardwell said. That's why Cocoa must stay at the aquarium. It's the only way she can survive.
Sadly Cocoa is not alone.
"They come in with a variety of different injuries, but specifically this month we are seeing a lot of boat strikes," Cardwell said.
Cocoa is putting a spotlight on turtle injuries. Last year the Clearwater Marine Aquarium took in a record 56 injured sea turtles. In less than six months this year, they've already treated 33, two injured so severely they died.
"It's just a competition with the turtles and the boaters," Cardwell said. "Unfortunately turtles don't rank very high up compared to a boat, so they get injured quite a bit."
Some of the turtles that come to the aquarium become what they call floaters, meaning their injuries are so bad they cannot dive for food. Therefore they can't be released back into the wild.
"If they actually break their shell they can begin to float and when they float up to the surface some of them can't overcome that," Cardwell said.
Aquarium trainers said boaters just need to be more aware. Sea Turtles come to the surface for air, so boaters should always be on the lookout for one popping out of the water.
If you do hit a turtle or find one injured, you should call the aquarium immediately at 727-441-1790, ext. 234.
“The faster we respond the more likely we might be able to save it," Cardwell said.
That will hopefully lead to a happy ending for stories like Cocoa's.