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Fans Gather For South Carolina Aquarium’s Last Turtle Release Of 2017

By Mimi Wood, The Island Eye News Staff Writer

Volunteers released four turtles in front of fans at IOP beach. (Photo by Barbara Bergwerf)

It was AMAZING!”, marveled 7-year old Lorelai Hay, whose mother, Anastasiya, pulled her daughter out of school an hour early to see the “Final Four” released back into the Atlantic at the Isle of Palms County Park on Tuesday, October 3.

After months of rehab at the SC Aquarium, Hank returns to his ocean habitat. (Photo by Barb Bergwerf)

The Hays, along with their friends the Kujaths, were among the approximately 300 people who formed a gauntlet-of-love, through which four sea turtles were sent a-swimming after several months of rehab at the South Carolina Aquarium Sea Turtle Care Center. Hank, Jacobs, and Caldwell, loggerheads ranging in size from 45 to 160 pounds, along with Sheldon, a 56-pound Kemp’s ridley, were the last four turtles to be released by the SCA in 2017.

Caldwell, a 45-pound loggerhead, turns to wave to his adoring fans before being set on his path back to the sea. (Photo by Mimi Wood)

The boys arrived in style, each individually semi-submerged in a huge plastic tote, secured in the back of the Aquarium’s signature, fire-engine-red Mercedes (donated) van. One by one they were carried to the shoreline, gently placed in the knee-deep waves, and bid adieu.

We purposefully timed the release to coincide with the midhigh, incoming tide,” explained Willow Melamet, SCA Sea Turtle Care Center Manager.

We had to compensate for a sand bar created courtesy of Irma,” a tropical storm that blew through the region at the end of September.

To see a real, live sea turtle is to love them. And for all the eye-rolling non-believers, please consider the following fact: all six species of sea turtles found in United States waters are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Native to our islands, the loggerheads are classified as a Threatened Species, meaning they are in danger of being “upgraded” to an Endangered Species in the foreseeable future.

The Kemp’s ridley is actually on the Endangered Species list, in peril of becoming extinct. And to state the obvious: once a species is extinct, it’s gone forever…an incredibly sobering thought worth a moment of pondering. A prime example is the gregarious, tropically-colored Carolina parakeet, indigenous to our state, which was declared extinct in 1939, feasibly within “our” lifetime; there’s no bringing them back.

Sea turtles are important to us for two reasons; they maintain our ocean and they protect our dunes.

Under the sea, turtles are one of only a few species who eat sea grass, thereby promoting its growth; the seagrass beds provide nesting and development habitat for numerous marine species upon whom our food chain depends.

On land, turtle nests nourish the vegetation; strong root systems hold the dunes in place and prevent erosion.

Consequently, there is legitimate cause to make changes on a daily basis to protect the turtles…if for no other reason, selfishly, to protect ourselves.

Minuscule personal decisions, such as eliminating the use of a plastic lid and straw, and toting recyclable grocery bags may seem inconvenient at first, but become an easy habit in about 21 days.

It was a hands-on science lesson,” declared Angie Kujath, who along with Hay, brought her two children from Summerville to witness the event. “It was my first sea turtle release,” exclaimed Kujath’s daugher, Lily. “I liked it because I want to be a marine biologist when I grow up.”

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