On a windy afternoon at the New England Aquarium’s Central Wharf plaza on Thursday, Don Chapelle and his team expertly manipulated 12,000 pounds of ice into the idyllic scene of a sea turtle surrounded by fish and coral.
Chapelle, the owner of Brilliant Ice Sculpture in Lawrence, has been building the aquarium’s annual ice sculpture on the wharf for the past 13 years, he said. This year, the sculpture was inspired by the work the aquarium does to rehabilitate the hundreds of hypothermic sea turtles that are rescued from Cape Cod beaches each year.
“For me, that’s the connection. The price of your ticket will help save a turtle,” Chapelle said during a break from carving and shaving chunks of ice into a 16-foot-long loggerhead turtle. “And when you see these turtles being rescued and being released, it’s a tearjerker.”
The sculpted loggerhead is surrounded by coral reefs, seaweed, and schools of forceps fish, a scene that depicts the turtle’s return to its warm and happy home in the Caribbean, Chapelle said.
Chris Corneille, from the North Shore, paused to take a selfie in front of the sculpture with his young son.
“I thought it was great," Corneille said. “It has certainly grown our awareness” of the sea turtle rehabilitation program.
Etirleia Santos, of Westborough, brought her family visiting from Brazil to the wharf and stopped to watch the ice sculpture take shape.
“I’m very surprised to see it here and it’s neat to see them doing it,” Santos said, adding that she found the detail of the sculpture impressive.
The aquarium hopes the sculpture lasts to the new year, but its survival is dependent on the upcoming temperature and precipitation, said Nicolle Fagan, a spokeswoman for the aquarium.
In past years, the sculpture has featured various marine creatures, including octopuses and penguins. But this year, the sculpture honors the increasing efforts of the aquarium’s marine rescue team to rehabilitate stranded turtles and release them back into the ocean, Fagan said.
“Their body temperature drops,” she said. “They get stuck in the arm of Cape Cod and when the wind comes in, it blows them up onto shore, and they’re quite hypothermic."
Since early November, the aquarium’s Animal Care Center in Quincy has treated around 200 hypothermic sea turtles including green turtles, loggerheads, and young Kemp’s ridleys, the most endangered sea turtle in the world, Fagan said.
“We work really closely to Mass Audubon Wellfleet [Bay Wildlife Sanctuary.] The volunteers there will bring the turtles ... to the Quincy animal care facility and then they’re slowly rehabilitated by our team of dedicated veterinarians and specialists that work with the turtles,” she said.
The aquarium has seen an increased number of turtles in need of rehabilitation in recent years, Fagan said.
“We think that this is such an important thing for people to know about the aquariums,” she said. “These are endangered and threatened species and this work goes on primarily behind the scenes.”