Summer is upon us! The weather is humid, the waters are warm and the sun is blazing hot. It’s the season of long afternoons at the beach, swimming in the ocean waves, rosé all day and of course, local sea turtle releases!
There are many moving parts that go into planning a sea turtle release. First and foremost, Sea Turtle Care Center staff work with South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) officials to determine whether the release should be quiet (like a boat release or a private beach release) or public based on the patient’s individual needs and best chance for success. Remember, these turtles are experiencing things they have rarely, if ever, experienced before, such as a car ride, the heat of the sun without the ocean to cool them, large crowds of people, pets, vehicles and all of the hustle and bustle these things entail. It’s a bit of a sensory overload! Additionally, we consider physical condition, weather, tides, water temperature, nearby human activities that may be dangerous (such as dredging) and where the animal would naturally inhabit at that stage in its life.
For example, during the 2019 summer season, we had many green sea turtle patients — green sea turtles are commonly found in our saltmarshes this time of year, so that is where we release them. Also, the 2019 season saw many larger turtles with flipper injuries. Not only can flipper injuries make it stressful for the turtle to crawl to the water, but it is unsafe for both the animal and staff to carry larger sea turtles to the water (and often impossible for the super hefty ones!) so many cases require being transported to the water in bins. This means extremely limited visibility, which is not ideal for a public release.
Once we determine all facets of animal care and what is best for the turtle, we begin contacting the city, beach and county parks and police and fire officials to help us pinpoint a location and arrange traffic control. Finally, with SCDNR approval, we are ready to release.
With so many moving parts to coordinate in such a small window of time, it’s often impossible to provide ample notice when planning a public release. Not to mention, early notification of public releases could attract unmanageably large crowds, which could become a serious, and perhaps dangerous, problem for both animals and humans alike.
Much like it takes an army to rescue and rehabilitate sick and injured sea turtles, it takes many helpful hands to return them home once they’re healthy and healed. Take heart in knowing that we do everything we can to have a happy and safe local release season.