Sea turtle rehabilitators decided to spice things up this year. 

Every year, staff at the New England Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rescue Program choose a naming convention for the sea turtles in their care.  Working with Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary and other partners, the Aquarium is part of a collaborative effort to find, rescue, rehabilitate and release injured and cold stunned sea turtles that strand along our shores at this time of year. 

Sea turtles spend their summers feeding in the rich waters off of our state’s coastline. In the fall they migrate south to reproduce. As ectotherms, sea turtles can’t regulate their body temperature, and they maintain their core temperatures through their surroundings. Sometimes, turtles will get stuck in the arm of Cape Cod, trapped in Cape Pogue Bay, or just caught off guard when water temperatures decrease and find themselves in trouble.   

This is where trained wildlife protection staff and volunteers come in, walking the beaches of the Cape and finding and rescuing turtles that have gotten waylaid on their way south, rehabilitate or research those that have died and hopefully eventually release them back into the water. 

Rehabilitators designated 2022 as the year of the spice for the turtles rescued and in their care. Turtles were named after things in your spice cabinet, including turmeric, clove, wasabi, red pepper chive, thyme, filé, allspice, basil, chervil, mace, cayenne, horseradish and garam marsala, among others. 

There is one turtle that seemed to get the short end of the stick when it came to its naming. Taco Seasoning is a green sea turtle that was not only unlucky in naming but may also become unlucky in life.   

Islanders have been asked to be on the lookout for this green sea turtle. Taco Seasoning stranded last year, was rehabilitated and radio tagged, then released this past summer. This turtle has recently been documented swimming in the vicinity of Edgartown harbor, near northern beaches on Chappy and in Cape Pogue Bay. If Taco Seasoning doesn’t get out of the bay, it might end up stranded or stunned on a Chappy beach. 

This is where Islanders can help. If you see Taco Seasoning — outside of your kitchen cabinet or store shelf — or any other sea turtle on the beach, please take action by contacting the appropriate authorities.  

It is very difficult to tell if a turtle is cold stunned or dead, so the best response is to call in the professionals. At this time of year, sightings of sea turtles that are live, dead, or of unknown condition should be called in to the Wellfleet Bay Sea Turtle line at 508-349-2615 extension 6104. Their turtle crew will contact local folks who are authorized to respond to these protected species. Summer sightings can be logged in at

It has been a busy stranding season and time is of the essence. More than 400 sea turtles have been found on beaches since the season started in early November, though as yet none have been found on Martha’s Vineyard.  

With luck, Taco Seasoning is on its way to warmer waters. Researchers will keep watching its trajectory. If that little spice mix prevails, it will not meet any Vineyarders and will be soaking in the southern sun soon. 

This year, with its mix of successes, failures and to be determined cases such as Taco Seasoning, the rescue program recipe made clear that spice was the variety of life. 

Suzan Bellincampi is Islands director for Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown and the Nantucket Wildlife Sanctuaries. She is also the author of Martha’s Vineyard: A Field Guide to Island Nature and The Nature of Martha’s Vineyard.