Loggerhead turtle rescued after wandering off beach at Fort De Soto Park

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Annie Harms and her husband, Tom, walk the beaches at Fort De Soto Park almost every morning. The couple volunteer to help park rangers track loggerhead turtles’ journeys to and from the ocean.

Usually, their paths are easy to spot. Tracks emerged from the waterline, move up the beach, and then another set of tracks goes back out to sea.

Thursday morning, shortly after 6 a.m., Fort De Soto head ranger Jim Wilson made an alarming find: Tracks came up the beach, but never went back out. He rushed over to Annie and Tom for help.

In a post on Instagram, Annie wrote, “Ranger Jim came zooming over and said, 'I have a turtle track that comes up on East Beach but I don't show it going back out to the Gulf. Can you guys come and help me look for this mama turtle?'”

Annie said the turtle-tracking trio followed the tracks to a service road and, eventually, all the way across the park. At one point, they came to a grassy area where the tracks disappeared.

“We’re feeling pretty hopeless after looking all along the beach and in the oak canopies and in the parking lot. Felt like early explorers schlepping through the jungle,” Annie said.

Then, some park-goers came over to report they spotted a large turtle in a parking lot.

“I was overjoyed! Here was the mama turtle who had traveled a long, long way and was exhausted,” she said.

Annie took videos of the turtle being loaded onto a truck and then returned to the beach by rangers.

Annie said it was an exciting day.

As a native of St. Petersburg, however, Annie said she only recently became aware sea turtles frequent the beaches of Pinellas County. Once she found out, she became one of their most fierce defenders.