Ten loggerhead sea turtles touched down at Michael J. Smith Field in Beaufort Monday, May 1, ahead of their release back into the Atlantic Ocean.
The loggerheads were rehabilitating at the Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium in Springfield, Missouri, after being cold-stunned in early January near Cape Cod. The New England Aquarium in Boston transported the turtles to the nonprofit aquarium in Missouri.
“It’s not often we have loggerheads in Missouri,” Wonders of Wildlife Director of Animal Care Mike Daniel said.
A private company named Turtles Fly Too transported the loggerheads from Boston to Springfield and then from Springfield to Beaufort. Upon arriving at Smith Field, turtle biologist Matthew Godfrey with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission organized the offloading and transport to Fort Macon State Park in Atlantic BEach with the assistance of Wonders of Wildlife aquarists Holly Blackwood and Jacquelyn Denney.
“We are super excited to help out with the rehabilitation,” Blackwood said. “We have 30-foot-long tanks at our aquarium that can accommodate these larger sea turtles.”
After a few minutes’ ride across the three bridges linking Beaufort, Morehead City and and Atlantic Beach, the loggerheads arrived at Fort Macon State Park at the eastern end of Bogue Banks. There, Ranger Ben Fleming led the procession of off-road-vehicles down to the shore for unloading and release.
The crates were placed on the sand, tags were removed and a last goodbye from staff and volunteers was given before the loggerheads hit the waves.
“It’s bittersweet,” aquarist Jaquelyn Denney said. “These guys have been with us for four months!”
As the loggerheads hit the sand they charged for the waves.
“It’s amazing how fast they move once they hit the water!” Blackwood said.
A series of several feverish paddles and the loggerheads were headed out to the Atlantic Ocean.
“I started to cry when they went under the waves,” Blackwood said. “Now they are where they belong.”