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Endangered sea turtles get a second chance at life


Nearly three dozen endangered sea turtles got a second chance at life when they were released into the ocean off of Georgia's Jekyll Island this month. Organizers said it was the largest such operation in the state, and it's part of a nationwide effort to rehabilitate and protect sea turtles. Sofi Gratas, with Georgia Public Broadcasting, was at the event.

UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEER #1: OK, listen, we're going to go ahead and...

SOFI GRATAS, BYLINE: On Jekyll Island's South Beach, the sky cleared just in time for the big release.

UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEER #1: ...'Cause we're going to be releasing in groups of four.

GRATAS: These 33 Kemp's ridley sea turtles and one green turtle have just been flown in from New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. It's the largest group ever to be released off this island.


GRATAS: Volunteers carry them down towards the water in cardboard boxes.

UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEER #1: OK, and then your three fingers are going to support their plastron.

GRATAS: Both of these species are endangered. When water temperatures up north became too cold, they got disoriented and washed up on shore.

MICHELLE KAYLOR: Our main goal is to get these animals back out into the wild.

GRATAS: That's Michelle Kaylor, director of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island. She says it's one of 15 rehab centers in the country that treats sea turtles when they're cold-stunned or injured by boats or fishing equipment. Healthy sea turtles can live to over 100 years old, but while protections for them have grown, thousands are still killed each year, and hatchlings face poor odds, says Kaylor.

KAYLOR: Maybe 50% or 30% will hatch and make it out to the ocean and start that whole process again.


GRATAS: Back on the beach, after months in rehab, these turtles are ready to hit the water.

JAMIE GAMBY: Here we go.

GRATAS: Sea turtle specialist Jamie Gamby walks with Terry Carbonell, who's holding a very eager turtle.

TERRY CARBONELL: Man, he is...

GAMBY: We're going to go on this side over here, OK?

CARBONELL: I'm with you.

GRATAS: The turtle flaps its flippers.

GAMBY: Let's see if he goes. All right, there he goes.

CARBONELL: There he goes.

GRATAS: Carbonell is a pilot with Turtles Fly Too, an organization that shuttles sea turtles all over the country, from turtle hospitals to releases like this.

CARBONELL: I'm going to cry. That was just so amazing. I've flown them, you've seen them sick, and now that one especially was just so healthy. He was ready to go.

GRATAS: Several goodbye waves later...

CARBONELL: Ready? One, two, three. All right.

GRATAS: ...All the turtles are back at sea.

For NPR News, I'm Sophie Gratas on Jekyll Island, Ga.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Sofi Gratas