Endangered Sea Turtles Set Free After One-Year Recovery

First Posted: Apr 29, 2013 08:08 AM EDT

Some sea turtles are getting a second chance at life. One juvenile green turtle and five Kemp's ridley sea turtles were released back into the wild after spending a year in rehabilitation overcoming injuries. The effort is part of a project to help rare sea turtles that have washed ashore during strandings.

The sea turtles were first found in 2012 and brought to the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi. Each of them sported severe injuries, which explains why their rehabilitation took as long as it did. With names such as Chipper, Sunshine, Garfield, Nicky, Diva and Greenie Beanie, the sea turtles were carried to the shore before being set free. One of them was outfitted with a transmitter so that its movements could be tracked by researchers.

It's a good thing that these sea turtles were rescued. The Kemp's ridley sea turtle is one of the most endangered of all turtle species. Adults can weigh up to 100 pounds and grow a little over two feet in length; they're one of the smallest marine turtles in the world. These sea turtles also possess some interesting nesting behaviors. They gather off of the coast near Rancho Nuevo, Mexico before arriving en masse on the beaches; it's one of the most synchronized nesting behaviors among turtles. However, this behavior also causes the turtles to be vulnerable to human predation. Their eggs are often excavated, though conservation efforts have helped prevent it over the last few decades. Fortunately, the Kemp's ridley population is slowly increasing from historic lows in the 1960s.

Yet the population increase experienced a setback about three years ago after the BP oil spill. Since these turtles inhabit the Gulf of Mexico, the spill was devastating for the species. They're only now recovering after their sudden and sharp decline.

"They depend on the Mississippi Sound for their development," said Andy Coleman, senior scientist and turtle ecologist with IMMS in an interview with the Sun Herald.

Currently, researchers at the IMMS are planning on studying ways to help the Kemp ridley population numbers. More specifically they plan to research the potential benefits of artificial reef and oyster habitats that can help attract the turtle's preferred prey--blue crabs.

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