Published on January 7, 2021

BBC Series Focuses on Sanctuary's Sea Turtle Rescue Program

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Wellfleet Bay's cold-stunned sea turtle rescue program is featured in a new BBC television nature series premiering in the US and around the world this month.

A Perfect Planet, a stunning five part-series hosted by David Attenborough, demonstrates that while the interaction of Earth’s natural forces—sunlight, volcanoes, oceans-- supports an abundance of life, human activity threatens to upend that delicate balance. The sea turtle rescue program, which includes Wellfleet Bay’s many partners, is featured in the final episode of the series, "Humans", which examines efforts being made to address climate change and other human-induced environmental threats.

Videographers from Silverback Films, which produced the series, spent more than a week at the sanctuary in 2019 photographing the sanctuary's sea turtle staff and volunteers as they patrolled Cape beaches in November in search of cold-stunned sea turtles and transported them to the New England Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital in Quincy for life-saving veterinary treatment.

Cold-stunned Sea Turtles and Climate Change

Many scientists believe that climate change plays a role in the Cape’s annual cold-stun phenomenon, with the Gulf of Maine warming at a faster rate than the rest of the world’s oceans. As a result, sea turtles foraging along the Atlantic coast may  be traveling farther north than in previous years and some may become trapped in the hook of Cape Cod Bay as they swim south in the fall.

Bob Prescott, who founded Wellfleet Bay’s sea turtle program more than 30 years ago and continues to oversee it, says it’s an honor to be part of the series.

It’s pretty amazing they picked our project to highlight climate change. It’s hard to put a face on the climate change issue. We’ve certainly heard all about polar bears. But an even rarer species, the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, is in our own back yard, being impacted by the warming of the Gulf of Maine.”

An Army of Volunteers

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Sanctuary Director Melissa Lowe says the BBC documentary is a tribute to the dedication and hard work of the sanctuary’s nearly 200 trained volunteers, who search area beaches for turtles day and night and under challenging weather conditions.

In addition to Wellfleet Bay and its longtime partner, the New England Aquarium, the cold-stunned sea turtle rescue effort includes more than two dozen other marine animal rehabilitation facilities, federal agencies, as well as a volunteer pilots group, Turtles Fly Too, which transports sea turtles on private planes.

In the US, Perfect Planet is available on Discovery Channel’s new streaming service, Discovery+. The episode "Humans", which includes the sea turtle rescue segment, begins on Sunday, January 24.