Aquariums complete journey with release 33 sea turtles

(N.C. Aquariums photo)

PINE KNOLL SHORES, Carteret County - The North Carolina Aquariums celebrated a conservation success story Wednesday as 33 sea turtles that would not have survived without help swam away into the deep blue sea. The Aquariums released the turtles 22 miles offshore, near the Gulf Stream's warm waters.

Twenty of the turtles are just a few weeks old. Left behind in nests that hatched out on area beaches, the weakened turtles, all loggerheads, were brought to the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores for care until they were strong enough for release.

A majority of the rest, ranging in age from one to two years old, arrived at the Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher under similar circumstances in past years. Annually, the Aquariums care for dozens of hatchlings in need of assistance. Most are released within a few weeks. Some, like these, spend time in educational programs and exhibits as animal ambassadors before heading to sea.

"Through an agreement with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the North Carolina Aquariums' Sea Turtle Ambassador Program, some rescued hatchlings spend their first year at Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited facilities providing a connection and message of ocean optimism," said Aquarium Director Hap Fatzinger. "The North Carolina Aquariums are committed to the conservation of sea turtles and the preservation of ocean habitats."

This year, four sea turtles went to other accredited aquariums to be part of their educational programs on sea turtle conservation - Adventure Aquarium in New Jersey, National Aquarium in Maryland, Newport Aquarium in Kentucky, and Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut.

The four partner aquariums in the Sea Turtle Ambassador Program will foster new, healthy hatchlings to nurture for the next year where they'll help to connect millions of visitors with the conservation story of sea turtles.

Earlier this week, all of the turtles received final veterinary checks. The Aquariums work with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) on sea turtle conservation efforts, including caring for imperiled hatchlings. At Pine Knoll Shores, the Aquarium's Loggerhead Odyssey and Sea Turtle Rescue exhibits currently feature several baby sea turtles from this season.

The North Carolina Aquariums take in weak and injured sea turtles year-round. In January, the Aquariums cared for more than 700 sea turtles during a record-breaking cold-stunning event. The turtles were caught off-guard by plummeting water temperatures, which caused them to be paralyzed in a state similar to hypothermia. Over a few months, most of the turtles were nursed back to health and released.