N.C. Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores staff, with the help of students from Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort, released four green sea turtles early Thursday morning along the Bogue Banks town’s shoreline.
The four sea turtles were stranded in March. Two were from Cape Lookout National Seashore, one was from Shackleford Banks, and another from Bogue Sound.
Park rangers and N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission staff located the sea turtles and, after an initial intake evaluation by veterinary team with N.C. Aquariums, were brought to the aquarium.
Matthew Godfrey, commission sea turtle biologist who led the university class, said that students from Duke were 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.”
Michele Lamping, aquarium aquarist and sea turtle specialist, said that when the temperature drops in the sounds, “some turtles who can’t make it to warmer water bury themselves in the sediment. That’s where their food source is, but the water is too cold, and they aren’t able to forage like they normally do.”
She 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, which is 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 care for the animals in an effort get the animals’ body back up to an optimal healthy condition. After a final wellness check from the veterinary team, the turtles are tagged and released back into warmer waters.
Lamping said that the green sea turtles were able to be released Thursday because they were they right age and species that would normally be found in this area at this time of year.
“These greens were between 2 and 5 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. Just last week, the Pine Knoll Shores aquarium released an additional five rehabilitated sea turtles.
The effort to rescue and rehabilitate sea turtles is led by the commission in collaboration with, in addition to state’s aquariums and the National Park Service, the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation Center, Center for Marine Sciences and Technology, N.C. State University College of Veterinary Medicine, Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.