Sea glass hunt turns into turtle discovery

Dead turtle found on State Beach.

A dead loggerhead sea turtle washed up on State Beach, where Heidi McDonough found it when looking for sea glass Monday morning. — Gabrielle Mannino

Heidi McDonough was walking on State Beach in Oak Bluffs hunting for sea glass for her jewelry and ocean-themed art creations when she stumbled upon a gruesome discovery.

McDonough found a 2½ to 3-foot, badly decomposed loggerhead turtle washed up. “It scared me,” she said. “I walk the beach four to five times a week. I’ve seen seals washed up, but never a turtle.”

Through a social media post, she reached out to Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary and, ultimately, was put in contact with the sea turtle experts over at the Mass Audubon Society Wellfleet Bay Sanctuary.

“It’s definitely a loggerhead, and it’s not fresh,” said Karen Dourdeville, a sea turtle associate in Wellfleet who made her assessment based on photographs from McDonough and Josey Kirkland, an educational coordinator at Felix Neck, who went out to investigate.

It’s the second dead sea turtle in two weeks found on Island beaches. Last month, a leatherback turtle that had clearly been struck by a boat and severed in half by a propeller, was discovered on a private beach in Harthaven.

Dourdeville said judging from photos, the loggerhead had been deceased for a while before winding up on the beach.

It’s difficult to tell from the photographs whether the turtle was struck by a boat, but that’s a possibility, Dourdeville said. The decomposition is too great to get DNA samples from the loggerhead.

As The Times reported last month, the Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass & Bluefish Derby is working with the Mass Audubon Society to educate fishermen about sea turtles and to be on the lookout for them. During the tournament, anglers will be asked to report any sightings of not only leatherbacks, but Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead, and green sea turtles, all of which are listed as federally endangered.

“They are being wonderful about getting the word out,” Dourdeville said. “We hope it saves some turtles.”

While the massive 800-pound leatherback was left on the beach to decompose naturally, the loggerhead, which is about 100 pounds, can be removed and buried, Dourdeville said. The Oak Bluffs Highway Department has been called to dispose of the turtle, she said.

Richard Combra, the highway superintendent, could not immediately be reached for comment.

McDonough did make some other discoveries for her ocean artwork, which has its own Facebook page called Martha’s Vineyard Ocean Creations. Among the sea glass she found Monday morning was a blue marble, McDonough said.