HATTERAS, N.C. – The New England Aquarium, along with partner organizations, released dozens of rehabilitated sea turtles back into the Atlantic Ocean off the North Carolina coast on Monday.
In total, 26 turtles were released back into the water: 10 Kemp’s ridley turtles from the New England Aquarium in Boston, one loggerhead and four Kemp’s ridley turtles from Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut, five Kemp’s ridley turtles from the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society in New York and six from the New York Marine Rescue Center.
The turtles had been rescued from Cape Cod beaches by staff and volunteers from the Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary during the annual cold-stunning event, which began in November and lasted through January.
Most of the turtles were first triaged at the New England Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital and then spent months receiving treatment for conditions like pneumonia and dehydration at various rehabilitation facilities before they were given the green light to return to the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Since the waters off of the North Carolina coast are warm enough during the springtime for the turtles to survive, the New England Aquarium organized ground transportation and picked up turtles and met up with staff from the other organizations, and they all headed south.
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"It is a great feeling to actually be able to travel with and release these turtles along with our fellow network members and the National Park Service staff and volunteers," said the New England Aquarium’s Manager of Rescue and Rehabilitation, Adam Kennedy. "It’s something we have greatly missed for the past couple of years amid pandemic restrictions."
As the team and turtles headed south, the temperature inside the vehicles was set to the water temperature at the location of their release to accumulate the turtles better.
They were also given plenty of fluids to prepare them to return to the ocean.
Among the released turtles was a Kemp’s ridley turtle named Star Anise, which needed to undergo emergency surgery to remove a balloon ribbon that it had ingested.
That ribbon, the aquarium said, extended from outside its beak, through its digestive tract and out its posterior opening.
Star Anise was initially supposed to be released this summer off the coast of Cape Cod, but aquarium officials said the turtle recovered faster than anticipated and headed south with the other turtles to be released.
"Releasing these turtles is the ultimate goal," Kennedy said. "Every turtle that comes through our Sea Turtle Hospital doors, being carried in banana boxes, we want to send back to the ocean, healthy and crawling home under their own power."
The New England Aquarium said 500 turtles became stranded on Cape Cod beaches during this past cold-stunning season. Depending on the severity of injuries, hospitalized turtles can require weeks or months of treatments before it’s safe to return to the ocean.
This summer, the remaining turtles will be released off Cape Cod when the water gets warmer.