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Sea turtles released at Pine Knoll Shores beach

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(Press Release) The North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores released three young green sea turtles into the surf Tuesday, June 25, as a cheering crowd gave them celebrity treatment and a rousing send-off.  It was a happy ending for the turtles, which would not have survived without help.

"This is an example of the Aquarium's commitment to help protect and restore animal populations," said Aquarium Director Allen Monroe. An estimated 2,000 people lined the pathway to watch as the animals were carried to the water. Three excited kids from the audience, recruited on site, assisted with walking the turtles down the beach — Lacey Ackerson, 10, from Cape Carteret; Avery Groeninger, 11, from Virginia; and Andrew McClain, 9, of  Swansboro.

 Also on the release team were Michele Lamping, an Aquarist who cares for sea turtles at the Aquarium, and Claire Burkhart, a long-time Aquarium volunteer with more than 4,000 volunteer hours, many of them assisting with sea turtle care.

"This is an example of the Aquarium's commitment to help protect and restore animal populations," said Aquarium Director Allen Monroe. The Aquarium has cared for and released an estimated 700 sea turtles since it opened in 1976.

One arrived at the Aquarium in August 2011 as a hatchling just a few days old from an excavated nest. The NC Wildlife Resources Commission (WRC) and its network of volunteers check nests after hatchings for turtles that couldn't get out of the sand on their own. The Aquarium annually works with WRC to provide care for these weak hatchlings. Some, like this one, become ambassadors for their species in educational programs until they're released.

The two other turtles are estimated to be about three years old. They were rescued off Cape Lookout in April and brought to the Aquarium for care for cold-stunning, a potentially fatal condition. Because these reptiles are cold-blooded, many sea turtles head for warmer water in the winter. Those that stay behind can suffer cold-stunning when water temperatures drop suddenly. Similar to hypothermia in humans, it causes their heart rates and other functions to slow. They become unable to swim and float helplessly or wash up on shore.

In addition to a nutritious diet and rest, cold-stunned turtles receive frequent veterinary exams and medications if needed.

The Aquarium works with the WRC to provide care for cold-stunned turtles every year. The turtles are released as soon as they recover. In winter and spring, this requires boat transportation to the Gulf Stream to get them away from cold water. The warmth of nearshore waters at this time of year allows for the beach release.

The event coincided with the Aquarium's summer-long Turtle Tuesdays, featuring all types of turtles. Several Aquarium exhibits and programs feature sea turtles and how people can help them.

Photo: Michele Lamping, an aquarist at the N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, releases a green sea turtle June 25. An estimated 2,000 people turned out to watch the Aquarium release this turtle and two more young green sea turtles.


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