Contact: Joanna Wilson, DNREC Public Affairs, 302-739-9902, or Rob Rector, MERR Institute, 302-930-5925.
Seven green sea turtle hatchlings from Delaware
returned to the sea in North Carolina on Dec. 29
MOREHEAD CITY, N.C. (Jan. 5, 2012) – On Dec. 29, after three weeks at the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores, seven green sea turtle hatchlings from Delaware were released into the warm Gulf Stream waters off Cape Hatteras. Unfavorable winter weather conditions had delayed the continuation of their journey, which began back in August when a Delaware State Parks ranger spotted a green sea turtle laying her eggs late in the season on the beach at Cape Henlopen State Park in Lewes.
With the seas finally calm enough for the three-hour trip to their release site aboard a U.S. Coast Guard vessel, National Parks biologists slipped the tiny turtles into the Gulf Stream’s nearly 75-degree currents. Though the exact details of their journey in the open sea and where they go are not known, biologists believe green sea turtle hatchlings ride the Gulf Stream across the Atlantic to their developmental grounds, according to Dr. Matthew Godfrey, coordinator of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission’s Sea Turtle Project, who has worked closely with DNREC and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service since the eggs were found. The green sea turtle is protected as an endangered species in Delaware and as a threatened species federally.
“These remarkable turtles were threatened by high tides, predators, hurricanes, tropical storms, and unfavorable temperatures. They survived, with the support of a human team that included our Fish and Wildlife biologists, MERR Institute volunteers, the University of Delaware and our federal and North Carolina state partners,” said DNREC Secretary Collin O’Mara. “To hear that they have been returned to the sea to continue their inspiring journey makes all this effort worthwhile, and I commend our staff and all who helped them along their way.”
The clutch of eggs endured multiple moves, including the Oct. 5 move to the University of Delaware's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment in Lewes, where they were incubated, and the 370-mile, eight-hour trip on Dec. 7 to the North Carolina State University Center for Marine Science and Technology in Morehead City.
“It’s a testament to how hardy these sea turtles are that they survived so much. It was quite a journey,” said DNREC Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Biologist Edna Stetzar, who was part of the Delaware team that moved the eggs and cared for the hatchlings. “We learned a lot, so we’ll be better prepared the next time that we need to help nature along,” she added.
Eight hatchlings that had emerged from their shells in Delaware made the trip south, and four more hatched in the incubation chambers at North Carolina State University’s marine lab, said Stetzar. Four of the total of 12 hatchlings did not survive; the remaining eggs were determined to be unviable and did not hatch. One hatchling remains at the Pine Knolls aquarium in hopes that it will grow strong enough for later release. At the aquarium, which has a special area devoted to the care and rehabilitation of sea turtles, hatchlings are kept in a special divided tank with netting at different levels to help them develop their swimming skills without drowning.
During their long wait for release, the hatchlings dined on a local specialty at the aquarium. “The aquarium makes special ‘turtle gel,’ which is a prepared gel of bits of fish and/or shellfish, vitamins/minerals and agar gel. The gel form makes it much easier to deliver the proper daily amount per turtle,” said Dr. Godfrey, noting that older sea turtles need some training to learn to catch live prey before they can be released. “The hatchlings pretty much eat anything that is presented to them, so they don’t need training,” he added.
Back in October, a team of DNREC biologists and MERR Institute volunteers moved nearly 190 eggs to the University of Delaware facility from their nest on the beach – believed to be the first confirmed green sea turtle nest in Delaware since the 1970s, since sea turtles usually lay their eggs in warmer climates, with most green sea turtles nesting on Florida beaches. For nearly two months, MERR volunteers monitored the eggs around the clock before the first silver-dollar-sized hatchling arrived on Dec. 4, and continued monitoring until the hatchlings and remaining eggs made the journey south.
“We are delighted to learn that the teamwork between DNREC, MERR stranding team, the University of Delaware, North Carolina, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has paid off by helping these turtles to have a chance at life and survival in the ocean, where they belong,” said MERR Executive Director Suzanne Thurman. “Since they were too small to tag, we may never know what becomes of these hatchlings – but we hope they will grow up and help restore the numbers of their species.”
Vol. 42, No. 2