Pine Knoll Shores, N.C. — Four rehabilitated green sea turtles splashed their way through the waves breaking along Pine Knoll Shores’ shoreline early Thursday morning. Staff with N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores released the turtles with the help of students from Duke University Marine Lab (DUML).
“Students from Duke are learning about various aspects of sea turtle conservation, and this was an excellent opportunity to better understand the role of the Aquarium in helping rehabilitate and release sick or injured sea turtles found in North Carolina,” said Matthew Godfrey, N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) sea turtle biologist who led the DUML class.
The four sea turtles were found stranded in March; two were from Cape Lookout National Seashore, one from Shackleford Banks, and one from Bogue Sound. N.C. Park rangers and NCWRC staff located the sea turtles and after an initial intake evaluation by the N.C. Aquariums’ veterinary team, were brought to the Aquarium.
“When the temperature drops in the sounds, some turtles who can’t make it to warmer water bury themselves in the sediment,” said Michele Lamping, Aquarium aquarist and sea turtle specialist. “That’s where their food source is, but the water is too cold, and they aren’t able to forage like they normally do.”
Lamping added that these turtles came in after the winter cold-stunning events and are the type of sea turtle strandings the Aquariums usually see in March and April. They arrive covered in plants, algae, and animals – called biofouling.
The turtles are also emaciated from not eating. “Our priority is to get them eating again, which can take a little while,” Lamping said.
When the turtles start eating again, Aquarium staff say the goal is to get the animals’ body back up to an optimal healthy condition. After a final wellness check from the veterinary team, the turtles are pit-tagged and released back into warmer waters.
Lamping said that these green sea turtles were able to be released from the beach Thursday because they are they right age and species that would normally be found in this area at this time of year. “These greens were between two and five years old and this is their natural habitat this time of year because their food source is found here.” she said.
The N.C. Aquariums regularly care for sick or injured sea turtles throughout the year and N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores released an additional five rehabilitated sea turtles last week.
The effort to rescue and rehabilitate sea turtles is led by the NCWRC, which collaborates with a number of federal, state and private organizations including: The Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center at North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island, Jennette’s Pier, North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, Center for Marine Sciences and Technology, North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Cape Lookout National Seashore, Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).