During his spare time, Master Sgt. Zachariah Spitzer was beachcombing on the subtropical shore of an unnamed beach near Camp Schwab, Okinawa, Japan. He usually found seashells, sea glass, coral chunks, and sometimes artifacts from World War II. But, to his surprise, he noticed a large, knotted fishing net with a sea turtle struggling inside, its front right flipper injured and tied up with rope. Yet, despite its condition, the animal was still alive.

The Hawksbill sea turtle is a critically endangered sea turtle belonging to the family Cheloniidae. It is one of the smaller species of sea turtles and has a distinctive pattern of overlapping scales on its shells that form a serrated look. In addition, its head is narrow and has two pairs of prefrontal scales in front of its eyes, giving it a unique appearance. The Hawksbill gets its name from its beak-like jaw, which resembles that of a bird of prey, enabling them to feed on sponges and other invertebrates found in coral reefs.

Spitzer quickly sprang into action. He first started with his hands, working to remove the netting. He then shifted his attention to the animal’s damaged flipper, using a serrated blade from his multi-tool to carefully cut the rope. He was mindful not to put any pressure on the injured appendage until the turtle was finally liberated from the restrictive netting. Once he confirmed that no more rope was left in the turtle’s joint, he contacted the Churamura Okinawa Sea Turtle Conservation and waited for reinforcements.

“I kind of knew what to do if you find a stranded or injured animal, so I had been looking for volunteer opportunities out here. We’re on a short unit deployment program, so I hadn’t really taken advantage of it, but I knew there was a turtle rescue,” said Spitzer.