PINE KNOLL SHORES | Approximately 30 loggerhead sea turtles are headed out to sea today after being rescued as hatchlings from Carteret County beaches and rehabilitated by North Carolina Aquariums.
Staff members from the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores as well as several partner aquariums are scheduled to board the Carolina Princess head boat on the Morehead City waterfront and head about 20 miles offshore to release the turtles into the Gulf Stream.
Most of the sea turtles are hatchlings from the 2016 season that are strong enough now to release. A dozen others are yearlings that were rescued during the 2015 season. One is a two-year-old loggerhead that was rehabilitated at the aquarium in Roanoke.
Hap Fatzinger, director of the aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, said that 72 hours after a sea turtle nest has hatched, volunteers who monitor the beaches each nesting season excavate the nest to count how many eggs hatched, how many did not, and any hatchlings that didn’t make. Often there are also live hatchlings that need some extra help.
“Sometimes you have straggler hatchlings; hatchlings that maybe couldn’t climb out of the nest or may have been too weak. They may be released right into the water or they may be brought to a facility like ours for rehabilitation,” Fatzinger said.
In some cases, after the sea turtles are rehabilitated they may serve as animal ambassadors at Pine Knoll Shores or at one of their partner aquariums across the country.
Fatzinger said that through agreements with the state Wildlife Resources Commission and federal Fish and Wildlife Service they are able to loan animals to other accredited acquariums.
A number of the hatchlings from 2015 went on to serve as animal ambassadors for a year at Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut, Newport Aquarium in Kentucky, Adventure Aquarium in New Jersey, National Aquarium in Maryland and the Virginia Aquarium.
Fatzinger said having the animal ambassadors at the aquariums helps to educate the public and give them a personal connection and better understanding of conservation issues and how they impact wildlife.
The sea turtle exhibit at Pine Knoll Shores got an update this year and focuses on the importance of keeping the oceans clean and how harmful plastics and other debris can be to turtles and other marine animals that ingest the materials.
He said publicizing the turtle releases and the public interest in the animals helps further those education efforts.
Representatives from the partner aquariums brought the now-yearlings back to Pine Knoll Shores to participate in today’s planned release.
On Tuesday, the turtles were prepared for transport, receiving final veterinary checks and PIT tags, small electronic tags similar to those placed in pets, which can be used in identifying the turtle.
The turtles will all be transported from the aquarium to the Carolina Princess dock area in downtown Morehead around 7:45 a.m. The public will be able to view many of the turtles until about 8:30 a.m., when they’ll be loaded onto the boat for transport.