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Sea turtle released into ocean after years of nurturing at aquarium

Published: Aug. 11, 2021 at 7:58 AM CDT
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WASSAW ISLAND, Ga. (WTOC) - One sea turtle in Coastal Georgia just got a second chance at life in their natural habitat.

After a few years of nurturing sea turtle “Neptune,” the UGA Marine Education Center and Aquarium released her back into open waters this week, WTOC reported.

It was a bittersweet moment for the people that have helped Neptune grow and flourish over the last three years as they said their final goodbyes. They released the 3-year-old loggerhead sea turtle along the beach at Wassaw Island on Tuesday.

“You have watched them grow from where they fit in the palm of your hand with plenty of room to spare to barely lift them out of the aquarium,” said Lisa Kovalanchik, assistant curator at UGA Aquarium.

Neptune was found as a straggler, meaning she made it out of the egg but did not leave the nest with her siblings.

“They have almost a zero percent chance of survival,” Kovalanchik says.

During her three years at the UGA aquarium, almost 75,000 people in person and virtually were able to interact with Neptune.

Having Neptune helped the aquarium “being able to showcase these animals and have people learn from them and really remember the animal they are seeing in the tank of the aquarium and thinking about that next time they are at the beach,” said Kovalanchik.

She helped educate about marine life while growing big and strong to be released back into her natural habitat.

“She was definitely moving, and it is good for them to get that blood flowing, but we didn’t want her to get tired out so we helped her down the beach a little bit and made sure she was pointed in the right direction,” Kovalanchik explained.

Before embarking on her journey, the Caretta Research Project tagged her to keep track of her if she comes back to nest, which likely won’t be for a few decades.

“The other tag, the one we put under her skin, is the one that will last with her for a long time so if she ever comes back to breed that is the tag we are going to read and that would be really exciting,” said Joe Pfaller, research director on the Caretta Research Project on Wassaw Island.

She was a little slow moving, but once she hit the open water, there was no turning back.

“It would have been nice if she kind of popped her head up one last time for a last look,” said Kovalanchik.

Even without one last wave, the team at UGA could not be more proud: “Goodbye Neptune!”

Even though aquarium visitors won’t be able to see Neptune at the aquarium anymore, Scuttle, the newest baby sea turtle, will be on display soon and will stay for about the same amount of time before being released as well.

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