Meeting Burt Reynolds, by Keith Billiot

​Living and working in South Florida, as an EnSafe site safety professional on behalf of Pratt & Whitney in Jupiter, Florida, offers many benefits, including proximity to amazing natural beaches and a climate suitable to enjoy them year round.

On Saturday, October 29, 2016, I walked onto Hobe Sound Beach at sunrise, expecting to start my routine weekend exercise, walking on the beach. I did not expect an opportunity to help an endangered species, but that is exactly what happened.

When a strong Easterly wind is blowing and the ocean is really churning, as it was that morning, there's no telling what may wash up onto the beach. A few hundred yards up, I saw a bait fisherman dragging a large rope net onto the sand. I walked toward him and saw that he was removing a section of the net from around a small sea turtle's neck. The fisherman told me he was collecting bait when he saw the turtle bobbing up and down in the surf, surrounded by the massive net.

I was relieved to find the turtle was still alive, but it was obviously exhausted, barely able to move its flippers or head. Thankful to have my phone, I searched and dialed the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach and was connected to a volunteer in the Hobe Sound area. I directed her to our location, and while we waited for the volunteer to arrive, the fisherman and I remained with the turtle, moving it just enough to keep its snout out of the sand so it could breathe.

When the volunteer arrived, she said that our turtle appeared to be a juvenile male and perhaps an Olive Ridley, a very rare type of sea turtle for this region. (In southern Florida, common sea turtles include the Loggerhead, Green, and Leatherback.) With the volunteer's direction, I picked up the new patient and carried him to her vehicle. I don't have much of a problem lifting 30 lbs, but let me just say that carrying that sucker a few hundred yards through beach sand turned into quite a workout!

We positioned the turtle in the floorboard of the volunteer's car, and he was whisked away to the Center for evaluation. Another volunteer returned later that day to retrieve the net in which the turtle had been trapped. The Center obtains these nets whenever possible to attempt to determine their make and origin. The net that had accompanied our turtle ended up weighing more than 80 lbs!

This photo of the little guy in his recovery tank was taken one week after his rescue. Burt Reynolds, so named by the Center, had gained quite a bit of attention from volunteers and visitors alike, given his rarity and appearance. He weighed just shy of 30 lbs at rescue—considered underweight—and had a constriction injury to his front left flipper from being caught in the net.

Confirmed to be an Olive Ridley, Burt Reynolds was the first of his species to strand as far north as Martin County, where Hobe Sound Beach is located, and he is only the fifth to strand in Florida. Olive Ridleys are more commonly found in Central and South America. Unusually warm ocean temperatures seem to have drawn numerous species not normally found along the Florida coast, including great white sharks.

Update: On January 2, 2017, the Burt Reynolds, who is a financial contributor to Loggerhead Marinelife Center, paid our Burt Reynolds a visit. Check out the Center's Facebook page for posts about the actor's visit. You can also visit Burt Reynold's Patient Page on the Loggerhead Marine Life Center's website for more information.

The Center is a volunteer-led organization that helps injured sea turtles by facilitating recovery and rehabilitation programs. During rehabilitation, turtles are housed and displayed at the Center for educational, research, and fundraising efforts until they are well enough to be released back to the ocean.

Burt is almost ready to be released, to continue his mysterious ocean existence. I am an ocean and nature lover, so I feel honored to have played a small part in that continuation. Good luck, Burt!