BERLIN, Md. - The National Aquarium last week hosted its first public sea turtle release since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.  

The National Aquarium released two Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, Bassoon and Cello, on Aug. 18 at Assateague State Park. This was the first public release since 2019. Bassoon and Cello, along with 28 other sea turtles, were rescued off the coast of Massachusetts in November. The two turtles came to the Aquarium suffering from varying injuries and pneumonia. Bassoon notably received acupuncture treatments and physical therapy treatments while in the Aquarium’s care, in addition to typical supportive care with antibiotics, fluids therapy, and dietary supplements. Both turtles have made a full recovery and were returned to their ocean home. 

Although sea turtles are federally protected, and despite the high costs associated with sea turtle stranding response and rehabilitation, there's inadequate direct federal support for the dozens of organizations that rescue and rehabilitate endangered sea turtles. For the last two years, the National Aquarium has led a national effort to increase federal funding for sea turtle stranding response and rehabilitation.

“The National Aquarium has rescued and rehabilitated sea turtles for over three decades, but over half our patients have come in over the last eight years,” said National Aquarium CEO John Racanelli. “The science suggests that sea turtle strandings are only going to increase in the years ahead, along with the costs of rescuing, caring for, and releasing them. Absent sustained and direct federal funding, it is unclear how long non-profit first responders like us can continue to provide this service to the nation.”

National Aquarium officials said that thanks to the leadership of Sen. Chris Van Hollen, more than three dozen members of Congress have already endorsed calls for funding sea turtle stranding response and rehabilitation in the federal budget, including Sen., Benjamin Cardin, and Representatives Anthony Brown, Jamie Raskin and Kweisi Mfume.

For the first time ever, the 2022 federal budget encouraged NOAA to provide direct support to organizations who respond to and rehabilitate sea turtles. Senator Van Hollen is leading the charge to make sure NOAA has the funding to do so. The Senate’s proposed 2023 budget includes $1.5 million for sea turtle stranding response and rehabilitation grants.

Building on this momentum, Congress recently introduced the bipartisan Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act, cosponsored by Senator Van Hollen, to create a permanent federal grant program to support organizations responding to and caring for threatened and endangered sea turtles. Ultimately, this new grant program will allow for more stable and sustainable funding that will ensure more sea turtles recover and return to their ocean home.

“Sea turtles are an endangered species, and protecting them helps maintain healthy ocean habitats. The National Aquarium’s work on this front has been pivotal – and the release of Bassoon and Cello highlights their success,” said Van Hollen, who was on hand to participate in the turtle release. “We must continue to invest in protecting this species, and I’ll keep fighting to provide the necessary funding to support the organizations that are leading these vital recovery efforts.”

Since the bill’s introduction earlier this summer, 49 institutions from 24 states and territories have called on Congress to pass the Sea Turtle Rescue Assistance Act and fund sea turtle stranding response and rehabilitation.