Safe travels: Community cheers the release of six sea turtles back to the Atlantic
Published 9:25 am Sunday, May 21, 2023
Several hundred people gathered to watch the return of six rehabilitated sea turtles back to the ocean Tuesday morning, March 16, 2023 at the Old Lighthouse beach access in Buxton.
Volunteers from the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island and the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (N.E.S.T.), along with the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, assisted in the release of four juvenile green sea turtles, a juvenile Kemp’s Ridley and a 209-pound adult female loggerhead aptly named “Miss Piggy.”
Volunteers paraded the turtles around the crowd for photos and a closer look at the marine reptiles, who would be returning home after months at the Sea Turtle Assistance & Rehabilitation Center (STAR) on Roanoke Island.
The green sea turtles – Bashful, Flounder, Kaa and Mushu – were cold-stun patients admitted to the STAR Center last winter and spent between two and five months receiving treatment and care.
Sleepy, a juvenile Kemp’s Ridley, was found in Nags Head on May 3 with a hook in his mouth.
Miss Piggy was found stranded on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore on September 15, 2022 and was reportedly lethargic and anemic upon arrival the STAR Center.
Of the six turtles, Miss Piggy was fitted with a satellite transmitter on her back that will provide location data. Those interested in tracking Miss Piggy’s travels can check out the aquarium’s website (ncaquariums.com/roanoke-island) and social media page (facebook.com/NCAquariumRI). As of Thursday, she was off the coast of Cape Hatteras.
N.E.S.T. President Tony Parisi said Miss Piggy was the only turtle released that day that was big enough to hold a transmitter. Generally, released turtles head for the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream and after that, “we don’t know,” Parisi said.
The crowd was quiet as each turtle slowly made its way to the shoreline. Some were timid, and some seemed a little puzzled for a few moments about what they were supposed to do.
Onlookers gathered in the semicircle around the turtles, watching in anticipation and joy as the creatures padded their way along the sand toward the salty sea, erupting in cheers when the waves washed over turtle and carried it out to the surf.
“We love to watch the natural things that happen on the OBX,” said Jane Jacobs, visiting from Athens, Ohio. She said she found the experience “delightful” but felt that it must be scary for the turtles.
“I loved it,” said Wendy White, from Greenville, NC, and part-time resident of Kill Devil Hills. White saw the turtles at the STAR Center and was thrilled to witness their release.
The large group of volunteers were among the most excited people in the crowd. “This doesn’t happen very often, so it’s always fun to be here at a release, especially because of a lot of these volunteers were involved in the rescue of these sea turtles,” Parisi said.
“How many people actually get to see a sea turtle?” he asked. Though he participates in nest sitting, which is when volunteers watch the eggs during hatching season to protect against predators and other potential risks, he said he doesn’t often get a chance to see many live adult turtles in their natural habitat. “This is fun, even for those of us that have done this before,” he said.
N.E.S.T. has about 500 active volunteers who do a variety of jobs from rescuing and rehabilitating injured turtles, nest sitting, ATV patrol – which involves scanning miles of beach for sea turtle tracks and nests, and site staking or roping off nests for protection.
“The volunteers are what makes everything possible,” Parisi said, and added that donations to N.E.S.T. can be made at nestonline.org.
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