5 min read

Life-Changing Surgery Allows Blind Turtle To See And Swim Free

Yesterday, hundreds of well-wishers lined a beach in Charleston, South Carolina to bid farewell to a loggerhead turtle they had come to know as Briar. The crowd cheered and cameras snapped as the 200-pound animal scampered eagerly back out to sea.

But this turtle's future wasn't always so bright.

Briar was discovered in May of last year, washed ashore near Myrtle Beach on the verge of death, her body emaciated and covered in barnacles -- signs that failing health had made her nearly too exhausted to even move.

By the time she was rescued and taken to the Sea Turtle Hospital at the South Carolina Aquarium, her vital signs were so faint that veterinarians feared she wouldn't survive the week.

But to their amazement, she did.

Over the next few months of treatment in the caring hands of her rescuers, the tired turtle was cleaned of the barnacles and she began to regain her strength. With a steady diet of crabs and fish, Briar quickly put on 50 pounds, returning to a healthy weight.

But then, without any apparent reason, Briar's appetite seemed to fade as she stopped hunting down the feed placed in her pool. It wasn't long before vets discovered that she had developed cataracts in her eyes and was unable to see.

Knowing full well that Briar could never be released if she was blind, the aquarium searched for someone who might be able to help, and thankfully got in touch with Dr. Ann Cook, a specialist in veterinary ophthalmology from Animal Eye Care of the Lowcountry.

Last April, after Dr. Cook had spent several months researching cataracts in marine animals, she and aquarium staff successfully performing the life-changing surgery to correct the damaged lenses, restoring Briar her sight.

But before Briar could be considered for release, her caregivers needed to be certain that she could see well enough to find her own food, so they closely monitored her eating habits.

"For a few weeks, Briar seemed to be suffering from a case of stage fright because she seemed to prefer feeding on the crabs at night while no one was watching," writes aquarium. "We were finally able to watch Briar successfully catch the live crabs and we knew then that she would be able to survive in the wild on her own!"

After more than a year recovering captivity, Briar had come to touch the lives of aquarium visitors for her incredible will to survive despite the odds stacked against her, making her return all the more bitter sweet.

But as she slipped beneath the waves, likely never to be seen again, folks there to watch were reminded of more than just the resiliency of life -- but also of what wonderful things that can result when people simply take the time to care.