GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies released 10 rehabilitated Kemp's Ridley Turtles on Saturday morning with the help of some young volunteers.
Students from Three Rivers Elementary School in Gulfport were invited to help release the turtles after doing a beach cleanup. According to several students, returning the turtles to the wild was really fun and cool.
"I thought it was cool to see all the different turtles, and I was really surprised at how many different people came. I didn't think it would turn out this well, but a lot of people came," said one student.
A large crowd looked on as several Boy Scout troops, students and a few public figures assisted IMMS workers with releasing some of the most endangered species of sea turtle back into their natural environment.
"It's a wonderful opportunity for the community to come out and see how it works. A great opportunity for IMMS to show off what they've been doing, rehabilitating these animals and getting them back into the water," said Mississippi Sen. Sean Tindell.
These turtles have been under the care of IMMS since earlier this year. When they were rescued, they had very serious injuries. Now they have been rehabilitated and are ready to forage on their own again.
"We thought we were going to barely put our feet in the water, but we ended up going knee deep, and I was like well yea that makes sense now," said another student.
According to Moby Solangi, who is the Director of IMMS, these turtles were on the brink of extinction in the 1980s, but thanks to intense conservation efforts on the main nesting beach in Mexico and on foraging grounds throughout the Gulf of Mexico, they were making a recovery, until the 2010 oil spill.
"Our environment is so important. I mean, I grew up down here. As a kid I would go fishing with my grandfather, throw in a mullet net and learn to love the environment. It's an opportunity for other kids and my kids to come out and do the same thing," said Tindell.
Solangi says their hope is that the turtles make it back to Mexico where they will lay eggs and then swim back this way. The turtles released today were not tagged with GPS devices like some of the ones released previously. They were simply marked so IMMS will know if they return.