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TurtlesFlyToo celebrates five yearsTurtlesFlyToo celebrates five years

Volunteer sea turtle rescue organization TurtlesFlyToo.org, which depends on general aviation aircraft and pilots to help relocate the lumbering mammoths, is expanding westward as  the organization celebrates its fifth year.

TurtlesFlyToo.org volunteers handle sea turtles during a rescue involving general aviation pilots and their aircraft. Photo courtesy of TurtlesFlyToo.org.

“Wow, that’s amazing,” said founder Leslie Weinstein during a phone interview with AOPA when he realized five years had passed so quickly. The first mission began in November 2014 when an injured sea turtle needed transportation to Dubuque, Iowa, and GA pilots came to the rescue. The next order came in for 50 “cold-stunned” turtles that were confused migrating north in the frigid water along the New England coast, and things literally took off from there.

TurtlesFlyToo.org now has a database of hundreds of pilots that match a turtle’s needs to pilots, aircraft, payload, and distance. “Our territory is from Alaska all the way to Mexico along the Pacific coast, and from Canada to the Caribbean on the East Coast,” said Weinstein. He added that the organization extended its air rescue operations to include emergency assistance with whales, otters, and other sea mammals along both coasts.

The organization recently partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to transport personnel and gear for the larger creatures when an emergency response is in order. “We make sure the important people get to where they are going. These types of missions are extremely dangerous for the specialists involved and it’s important to make sure they are well-rested and ready to go. That’s where we come in.” The group transports personnel back home via GA aircraft when the missions are complete.

Weinstein, a GA parts fastener supplier with operations in Idaho, grew up with a fondness for the turtles roaming near his St. Augustine, Florida, childhood home. He previously told AOPA that he combined aviation with volunteerism to unite “two endangered species—sea turtles and general aviation.”

“Our mission is to grab ‘em and go,” said Weinstein. “Can you do anything more?”

Georgia Sea Turtle Center personnel work with TurtlesFlyToo.org general aviation pilots, aircraft, and volunteers to help rescue and care for sea turtles. Photo courtesy of TurtlesFlyToo.org.
David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.

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