Coast Guard crew from Fort Macon, NC releases rehabilitated turtles

ATLANTIC OCEAN -- Crewmembers aboard Coast Guard Cutter Staten Island prepare to return a rehabilitated Loggerhead turtle to the Gulf Stream off the coast of North Carolina, March 24, 2011. The Loggerhead was one of six turtles that were cared for by members of the North Carolina Sea Turtle Project and then transferred by the Coast Guard crew based in Fort Macon, North Carolina. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class David R. Marin.

Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer David R. Marin.

FORT MACON, N.C. — A crew aboard Coast Guard Cutter Staten Island assisted the North Carolina Sea Turtle Project with releasing six rehabilitated turtles into the Gulf Stream off the coast of North Carolina, Thursday.

The safe release of these turtles is part of the Coast Guard’s broader effort to protect living marine resources.

There were a total of six turtles, four of which came from the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, in Topsail Island, one from the Northern Outer Banks Endangered Sea Turtle group or NEST, in Manteo, and one from the North Carolina Aquarium, in Pine Knoll Shores.

“It happens to be that at this time of year we can’t do a beach release because the water is too cold,” said Dr. Betsy Stringer, a wildlife veterinarian from N.C. State University College of Veterinary Medicine. “We can do that type of release later in the year, but we wanted to get these turtles out as soon as we could and so Matthew Godfrey made arrangements with the Coast Guard to take us out to the Gulf Stream where it is warm enough and there is food.”

The turtles were cared for by members of the Sea Turtle Project for reasons ranging from being blown in by a storm, being cold stunned or being struck by propeller blades, included a small Kemp’s Ridley, four juvenile Loggerheads and a yearling Loggerhead.

“Some of these turtles have been in rehabilitation for months or years,” added Stringer. “The big Loggerheads that are out on the deck are not even full grown yet. They get to be quite a bit larger. The largest one that we have out here today is about 150 pounds but they get larger than that as adults.”

Although sea conditions were rough for the 110-foot cutter’s crew and passengers, they were able to reach the Gulf Stream 40 miles from Fort Macon after a four-hour transit.

“It was pretty rough and pretty choppy,” said Lt. Brendan Shields, commanding officer of the Staten Island. “We were able to get out there and back pretty quick and in true cuttermen fashion we had to figure it out when we got out there. We didn’t have an exact way to get the larger turtle off the cutter. We had to use the crane and lines. It wasn’t just as simple as putting them over the side.”

The four largest turtles were lowered using a bin rigid to the ship’s crane. The two smaller ones, the Kemp’s Ridley and the yearling Loggerhead were lowered to the water by crewmembers Petty Officer 1st Class Nicholas Riccardi and Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Pelland.

“Everything went really well,” added Stringer. “The turtles were nice and calm during the transport, and the release itself went really smoothly. I was really happy about how they were able to be lowered down to the water. Seeing them all swim away normally was really exciting.”

“It is a good way to meet the other agencies that we might not always work with but we do talk to quite a bit,” said Shields. “North Carolina wildlife and the turtle rehabilitation people, we don’t often work with but we kind of run in the same circles as mariners, professional mariners and people concerned about marine resources. I would definitely volunteer again if given the chance.”

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