O’Neill Custom Wetsuit Helps Injured Sea Turtle Sapphire In Chula Vista Swim Normally

Sapphire the loggerhead turtle in his custom suit. Video image

A loggerhead turtle from Living Coast Discovery Center who suffers from buoyancy issues is now eating and swimming normally thanks to a special weighted suit.

Sapphire has been a popular resident of the Chula Vista Center Aquarium since arriving from Florida in 2014. A collision with a boat shattered her shell and left her blind in one eye, making her return to the wild impossible.

The strangely floating turtle has gained a lot of attention over the years, as it is often seen in an unusual “turtle turn” position. To help correct its buoyancy, marine weights have been glued to its shell, allowing it to dive normally.

However, as of April 2020, her buoyancy issues worsened, causing problems with sleeping and eating. The Living Coast team planned to add more weight to its shell, but knew that wouldn’t solve the problem as the turtle is still growing.

“We had to decide where to place the weights, because one day its buoyancy leans to the right, the next day it is more to the left. Other times it’s a bit forward or backward, ”said Aiyana Reisman, animal care specialist. “There was no simple and universal option. We needed an approach that would allow flexibility.

The solution, developed with the help of veterinarian Todd Cecil of Western Aquatic Animal Veterinary Services, was a wetsuit that would add or remove weights as needed. A prototype was developed and tested on a small red-eared turtle. Then, O’Neill Wetsuits in Santa Cruz helped out by creating a custom costume for Sapphire.

With the suit in place, the Living Coast team experimented with various weight locations for months, figuring out how much weight would go where, and making adjustments. The team monitored the turtle’s activity level and calorie intake.

Finally, in December, the last weight was removed with the wetsuit and Sapphire was able to float horizontally and swim straight.

“It has been an incredible undertaking, and we are very happy to report that Sapphire’s diet and swimming have improved dramatically,” said Executive Director Ben Vallejos.

As Sapphire continues to grow, her buoyancy will change and she will likely need to undergo additional “wetsuit therapy” to help her recover again.

The non-profit Living Coast Discovery Center is an educational zoo and aquarium located in the San Diego Bay National Wildlife Refuge on Sweetwater Marsh.

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