Three loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings were released off the Destin coast Sunday following months of rehabilitation at Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park.
Staff members from Gulfarium's Sea Turtle C.A.R.E. Program, assisted by Captain Don Dineen of Sure Lure Charters, transported the hatchlings several miles off shore to a large patch of free-floating seaweed, which will provide food and shelter, giving the turtles the best chance of survival.
All three turtles were brought to the Gulfarium between October and December of last year. Two of the small hatchlings were discovered washed up near Gulf Island National Seashore and the Pensacola Beach Pier with trauma injuries to their flippers, likely from predatory animals. The third was found near an emerging nest on Eglin property on Okaloosa Island after the nest had been washed out by Hurricane Isaac.
Each turtle was successfully treated during the winter and spring and despite their injuries, including missing flippers on two of the turtles, they are now able to dive and find food.
"All three turtles hit the water and seemed right at home as if they had always been there," said Allen McDowell, head of Gulfarium's C.A.R.E. Program. "It was bittersweet to see the turtles swim away after months of working with them, but it is a comfort to know they are back where they belong."
All species of sea turtles are considered endangered and while nesting eggs face natural predators such as seagulls, crabs, and even ant raids, there are several human impacts that threaten the survival of the hatchlings, including artificial lighting, which can interrupt the hatchlings' natural instinct to head toward the moonlit ocean. Beach activity can also pose a threat as recreational equipment or even sand castles left on the beach can reduce success of the hatchlings' attempt to reach the water.
"The Gulfarium C.A.R.E program, short for Conserve, Act, Rehabilitate, and Educate, has been in operation for many years," says Will Merrill, president of the Gulfarium. "The program has helped to rehabilitate and release hundreds of endangered sea turtles native to the Gulf Coast." When a sea turtle patient arrives, it is evaluated by animal care and veterinary staff using guidelines from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. These guidelines give staff the necessary information needed to evaluate a method for rehabilitation, recovery, and release.
"We give these turtles the best opportunity for survival," says McDowell, "and in doing so we strive to inspire individuals to respect and preserve wildlife."