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Aquarium set to release 27 sea turtles off coast

PINE KNOLL SHORES, N.C. – The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores is scheduled to release 27 sea turtles 50 miles off the coast, Oct. 18.  Many of the sea turtles being released are participants of the sea turtle loan program, which allows several aquariums across the nation to participate in the care of this endangered species.

Loggerheads, which make up the majority of sea turtle nests in North Carolina, do not return to inshore waters until they are roughly 15 years old, said Michele Lamping, an Aquarium aquarist. This is why juvenile loggerheads are released offshore in the habitat in which they live.

“The Aquarium aids sea turtles who need a helping hand and this includes hatchlings,” said Lamping.

The Aquarium collaborates with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission to help save numerous distressed hatchlings that, for various reasons, would not survive without assistance.

When sea turtle hatchlings emerge from their sandy nests, not all make it to the ocean. The commission manages sea turtle monitoring and rescue efforts on state beaches through the North Carolina Sea Turtle Project.

“Volunteers monitor nests and bring in hatchling turtles that need assistance, whether they are from an excavation or a stranding,” said Lamping.

This program consists of several volunteer groups that patrol the beaches from April to October for evidence of sea turtle nests and safe guards established nests during hatching season.

The Aquarium provides a safe haven for dozens of tiny turtles, brought in by volunteers across Bogue Banks, whose chances of survival would be slim due to injury, weakness, weather or negative human interference.

Some of the young turtles act as animal ambassadors and help further the conservation message. Their specialized habitats at each aquarium allow for a unique educational experience for visitors. Programs featuring the turtles introduce these endangered or threatened species to school children and other groups.

“Education is so important for the survival of this species and at the Aquarium, we provide opportunities for our guests get up close to these amazing animals,” said Hap Fatzinger, director of the Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. “Through education comes understanding, and, with understanding, people can make better decisions that will ultimately help sea turtles in the wild and in human care.”

Each year all three of the North Carolina Aquariums release rehabilitated turtles and those previously loaned to other institutions.

This year, there are seven aquariums participating in the loan program – National Aquarium in Baltimore; Newport Aquarium in Kentucky; Adventure Aquarium in New Jersey; Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut; The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, Connecticut; Albuquerque Aquarium, New Mexico and the Virginia Living Museum.

To be involved in the loan program, participating aquariums must be accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, have specifically designed habitats for the young turtle and follow all federal guidelines for sea turtle care. After their stay at other aquariums, the turtles are brought back to North Carolina to be released into the wild.

             “Collaborating with organizations like these helps spread awareness and understanding of sea turtles,” said Fatzinger. “Hopefully each person who comes in contact with these magnificent animals will be inspired to make small changes that will transform the future for this endangered species.” 

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