In an experience that any sea turtle conservationist would classify as simply profound, 52 turtles rescued up and down the Atlantic coast were lined up along the sand in Jacksonville, Florida for a spectacular release that left volunteers and bystanders with tear-stained cheeks as they celebrated the turtles’ return to the blue beyond.
All 52 turtles were released as part of the Sea Turtle Trek that started in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Five of those turtles came from the South Carolina Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rescue Program in Charleston. In partnership with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the South Carolina Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Rescue Program works to rescue, rehabilitate and release sea turtles who get stranded along the coast. The aquarium’s turtle hospital admits 20 – 30 patients annually and has returned 107 turtles to the sea in recent years. The average stay for a turtle is about 9 months and runs the hospital about $36 per day per turtle.
The turtles who took part in this release were recovering from a wide range of injuries and illness. Three of the turtles named McNally, Kennedy and Kitt were found cold, stunned along the East Coast this winter. These Kemp’s sea turtles (the most endangered species) were given several months of fluids, antibiotics and vitamins to correct blood deficiencies before getting a clean bill of health.
Then there is Ollie, a juvenile green sea turtle who was hit by a boat on the Folly Fiver. In a lucky twist, Ollie was rescued by an employee of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) who witnessed the accident. They were able to get him to the aquarium within two hours and work began to heal the propeller strikes to his jaw and carapace (shell). In this case, laser therapy was applied to help accelerate cell growth in the wound.
Any time that a turtle is cleared for release, the animal must be put back in the ocean within a two week window. During colder months, that means turtles will either fly south to warmer water temperatures or hitch a ride by boat out to the jet stream where the water temperatures are above 70 degrees. In the short video clip below, you can watch the release of a turtle named Buxton who was brought off shore for his release.
As coordinated attempts to protect sea turtles continue to expand in the United States, there are still gaping holes in their conservation internationally as the hunting of turtles (including endangered species) continues to be legal in some countries. The sheer suffering that each turtle endures in this offshoot to the ‘fishing’ industry is of tremendous concern to animal welfare advocates who understand that the same physiology which helps turtles to survive for 100 years or more in the ocean, also forces their bodies to stay alive for extensive periods of time after they have been captured. Legislative reform, safeguards in the shrimping industry, nest site protection and enforcement of boating safety regulations continue to be an imperative for the protection of sea turtle species worldwide.
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