A Second Chance For Nature's Underdog

Green Washback turtle
CBS/Volusia County, Fla
As peaceful as it seems, the central Florida coast can be a treacherous place when you're only three inches long.

Sara Bale performed a rescue on the morning CBS News correspondent Kelly Cobiella met with her.

"Yeah, precious little thing, isn't he?" she said.

What Bale rescued is an endangered baby sea turtle. It should be out in the open ocean.

Instead, they're showing up by the bucketful - tiny, tired and weak, on miles of Volusia County's white sand beaches.

Anita Gallantine has lived here 14 years, and she's never seen anything like it.

"I found [one] on the beach!" she said. "People had buckets and containers and they were putting them in their shoes."

This is the problem: For three weeks, an unrelenting east wind pushed seaweed and the young turtles that live in it - to shore.

Where do they find most of them?

"In the wetted sand area where the fresh seaweed is at," said Jennifer Winters, the sea turtle habitat manager for Volusia County.

Lately, she's been on 24-hour turtle patrol, rescuing up to a thousand turtles a day.

A healthy population could survive a major hit like this, but because the sea turtles numbers are so low, every last rescue counts.

"You know want to get them off the beach as soon as we can because we know if they sit out here too long they're definitely going to die," Winters said.

The animals are packed up and trucked into the Volusia County Marine Science Center where every last one gets a check up, fluids, a salad dinner and a much-needed rest in the kiddie pool.

"Imagine doing a thousand of these a day!" said one worker.

This is the sea turtle ICU ward, where washbacks - the turtles that are washed back to shore - are brought for treatment. But even once they're healthy, the odds are against them. Of the more than 4,000 here, only four will make it to full adulthood.

"The odds are just astronomical, so they're almost the underdog and you look in their little eyes and they have that cuteness to 'em," a volunteer said. "But yet also they've been on the earth longer than we have so they're ancient and they've got that history to 'em so it's definitely something that we need to save for the future."

Saving them means sending them back to sea. After a few days of rest and relaxation the turtles are strong enough to face the ocean again, dropped in a seaweed patch 30 miles from shore.

It's a second chance for nature's underdog.