Sixteen sea turtles were released into the Atlantic Ocean at Jekyll Island, marking the biggest single release of endangered sea turtles on the island. The event also marked the end of weekend festivities for the island's Nest Fest celebration.
The sea turtles were part of the dramatic stranding event last year in which over 1,000 sea turtles were cold-stunned, finding themselves stranded along the beaches of Cape Cod. General aviation services transported the sea turtles to rehabilitation centers and marine labs all over the United States in what could be considered as the largest collaborative effort to save endangered animals.
The Georgia Sea Turtle Center accepted 75 turtles from the stranding and has since then rehabilitated and released all of the sea turtles except for two. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center worked alongside the New England Aquarium to facilitate Saturday's release. The New England Aquarium brought 24 sea turtles south but released 15 Kemp's ridley turtles for the joint event, along with one green sea turtle from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. All other sea turtles were released at a later time.
Hundreds of people were in attendance to see the sea turtles off. With up to 400 or 500 people present for the release, the event was buzzing with energy and excitement, a sunny culmination in comparison to the months of rehabilitation the turtles spent during the cold and snowy winter.
Dr. Terry Norton and Michelle Kaylor from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center led the turtle carriers to the beach, parading the sea turtles for visitors to see them up close before they are released. When it was actually time for the release, Norton counted down to ten to signal to the turtle handlers to start walking the turtles into the ocean. However, his count was soon drowned by hundreds of voices yelling the count with him.
After the release, staff and volunteers from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, the New England Aquarium and the Jekyll Island Authority gathered together, commemorating the event in a picture. According Jones Hooks, executive director for the Jekyll Island Authority, the number of released turtles was the biggest recorded for the Georgia coast.
Sea turtles are some of the oldest living creatures on Earth, with seven of the species in existence today alive since the time of the dinosaurs. Depending on species, their colors vary from yellow to green and black. Sea turtles can be differentiated from other turtles in that they can't retract their heads and legs into their shells.