Rescued turtles released into Mississippi waters

GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - By Trang Pham-Bui – bio | email

MISSISSIPPI SOUND, MS (WLOX) - One weighed a hefty 150 pounds. The other came in a little lighter at 100 pounds. Each required a team of six people to lift and carry to the van.

"You can't go anywhere turtle," an animal care specialist told one of the feisty turtles.

The giant Loggerhead turtles were on another journey Wednesday morning. They were heading to a new home, hopefully away from oil and dangerous equipment.

The turtles ended up at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Gulfport earlier this month, after they were rescued near the Chandelier Islands. Crews were creating berms to keep oil off the Louisiana coast, and the threatened turtles were removed to protect them from the dredging equipment.

"They were very lethargic. One of them had an eye injury," said Shannon Huyser, an IMMS Animal Care Specialist.

"I was there when the second one came in, and I helped with intake and stuff. So it's really nice to see it get nice and healthy through the weeks and be the one to put it back out there," said Animal Care Specialist Kelly Pulis.

The Loggerheads were placed on a boat. The final step involved attaching identification tags on the turtles.

"We're inserting pit tags, which are micro-chips," a biologist explained.

Then, the active animals were on their way to the Mississippi Sound.

"We want to make sure that they're nice and cool, and we definitely wanted to keep them separated. We don't want them to start biting each other or anything like that," said Huyser.

Since the oil spill began, 22 turtles that were rehabbed at IMMS have been released back into the wild. All of them were released in Florida. These two Loggerheads were the first to be released in Mississippi waters.

After an hour long boat ride, the boat arrived at Loggerhead Shoals.  It's a turtle habitat just south of Ship Island.

"These guys are normally found in this area, so we brought them back to a place where there isn't any oil right now," said Huyser.

The actual release took less than 30 seconds. The lighter one was the first to go overboard.   Then, the bigger quickly disappeared into the dark, brown water.

"Yeah! They're gone," the staff cheered.

For the animal care specialists, the turtle release was a welcome sight. They have seen too many oiled or even dead turtles arriving at their center in recent months.

"This is a happy ending," said Huyser. "It's nice to be able to put them back where they want to be and where they belong. And it makes us feel good. It's what we do."

The bigger turtle is a female, and it's probably 20 years old. The other one is younger and is believed to be female, as well. IMMS is currently taking care of eight other turtles at its Gulfport facility, including the endangered Kemps Riddley species.

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