Ten sea turtles treated at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island were returned to the ocean during a July 7 release at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The release was held on Coquina Beach, south of Nags Head, and a large crowd turned out for the enthusiastic send-off. A Kemp’s ridley, a loggerhead, and eight green sea turtles were released with the help of NCARI staff and interns, volunteers from the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (N.E.S.T.) and the U.S. Park Service.
The turtles arrived at the NCARI’s Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center after stranding on beaches in Buxton, Frisco, Avon and Corolla between December 2016 and March 2017. All suffered symptoms of cold stunning, a hypothermic state that can impact sea turtles when water temperatures drop quickly. STAR Center technicians gradually re-warm the animals, treat them for any illness or injury, and monitor their eating, swimming and vital signs. An exam by the NC Aquariums veterinary team determines when the turtles are ready to return to the ocean. This was the aquarium’s first beach release on the Outer Banks for 2017. In April, NCARI released 17 sea turtles at the Fort Fisher State Recreation area because at that time, the water there was warmer. With waters returning to the Outer Banks, the aquarium was able to release these turtles locally.
"It is so rewarding to see these turtles return to their natural habitat," said STAR Center Manager Amber White. "When they see the ocean, they are ready to go, and once they get into the surf, they are gone."
Sea turtle releases are popular events, and many visitors to the STAR Center who have seen turtles being treated come out to see their favorite turtles head home to the ocean. Releases are not scheduled far in advance because a successful release relies on the health of the turtle and the local weather and water conditions. The best way to receive notification of an upcoming sea turtle release is to follow the NCARI Facebook page at facebook.com/NCAquariumRI.
The Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation Center opened to the public in 2014 and provides year-round treatment for sick or injured sea turtles. The STAR Center is open to aquarium guests daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.