Rescued turtle heading to new home in San Diego

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Sapphire the Turtle
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Rescued turtle heading to new home in San Diego
In this Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014 photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, Richie Moretti, left, and Bette Zirkelbach move "Sapphire," a subadult loggerhead sea turtle on a gurney at the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Fla. The nodules on the rear of the turtle are weights epoxied to the reptile's carapace to help it submerge due to a boat strike injury. Because the weights will fall off as the turtle grows, it cannot be released. It is scheduled to travel Thursday, Sept. 25, via FedEx to its permanent home at the Living Coast Discovery Center near San Diego. (AP Photo/Florida Keys News Bureau, Andy Newman)
In this Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014 photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, staff at the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Fla., examine "Sapphire," a subadult loggerhead sea turtle. Because of a boat strike injury, the reptile can't be released and is scheduled to travel via FedEx Thursday, Sept. 25, to its new permanent home at the Living Coast Discovery Center near San Diego. From left are Devin Merriman, Matt Brochhausen and Richie Moretti. (AP Photo/Florida Keys News Bureau, Andy Newman)
In this Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014 photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, "Sapphire" a subadult loggerhead sea turtle, surfaces in a holding pool at the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Fla. Because of a boat strike injury, the reptile cannot submerge without weights affixed to its carapace and can't be released. It is scheduled to travel Thursday, Sept. 25, via FedEx to its new permanent home at the Living Coast Discovery Center near San Diego. (AP Photo/Florida Keys News Bureau, Andy Newman)
In this Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014 photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, staff at the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Fla., cleanse "Sapphire," a subadult loggerhead sea turtle that cannot be released and is slated to travel Thursday, Sept. 25, via FedEx to its new permanent home at the Living Coast Discovery Center near San Diego. From left are Richie Moretti, Bette Zirkelbach, Matt Brochhausen and Marie Simpson. (AP Photo/Florida Keys News Bureau, Andy Newman)
In this Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014 photo provided by the Florida Keys News Bureau, Matt Brochhausen, left, measures "Sapphire," a subadult loggerhead sea turtle, at the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Fla. Because of a boat strike injury, the reptile cannot submerge without weights affixed to its carapace and can't be released. It is scheduled to travel Thursday, Sept. 25, via FedEx to its new permanent home at the Living Coast Discovery Center near San Diego. At right is Richie Moretti, the hospital's founder. (AP Photo/Florida Keys News Bureau, Andy Newman)
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MARATHON, Fla. (AP) - A loggerhead sea turtle named Sapphire is getting ready for a cross-country trip on Thursday to a permanent home in Southern California after convalescing for more than a year at the Florida Keys-based Turtle Hospital.

Final preparations were being made Wednesday for the 2,500-mile journey to The Living Coast Discovery Center near San Diego.

The 129-pound subadult female cannot be released in the wild because she can't submerge without the two pounds of weights that are attached with epoxy to its carapace. As the turtle continues to grow, the weights will eventually fall off and new weights will need to be installed.

"She has 'bubble butt' syndrome," said Turtle Hospital manager Bette Zirkelbach. "She is unable to evacuate air from her lungs due to a spinal cord injury, so unfortunately for Sapphire, she is nonreleasable."

The turtle was first rescued in February 2010 with a wound that came from a boat strike, Zirkelbach said. She was treated for 45 days at the hospital and freed after appearing to be fully recovered. But in May 2013, she was found floating again off the Keys.

Soon after, state wildlife officials deemed the turtle needed a "forever home."

Zirkelbach said Sapphire is the only one of the 1,400 turtles the hospital has treated and freed in the past 28 years to return.

To monitor the turtle's health and comfort, Zirkelbach and hospital founder Richie Moretti will accompanying the turtle on FedEx flights from Miami to Memphis and then on to San Diego.

"Although 'Sapphire' can't be returned to the wild, the good news is that she will be able to act as an ambassador for her species, the endangered sea turtles," Zirkelbach said.

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