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Georgia Aquarium

Georgia Aquarium and Georgia Sea Turtle Center Release Rescued Sea Turtles Back to Ocean

The threatened species tells a global climate story with near catastrophic results

Atlanta (July 13, 2010) –

The Georgia Aquarium and its Dolphin Conservation Field Station (DCFS), along with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, will be releasing seven loggerhead sea turtles, along with a green sea turtle, off the beach of Jekyll Island on July 14, 2010. The animals were fitted with scientific satellite tracking devices so their migration, behavior and progress can be tracked to current locations and studied.

The organizations came to the rescue of the stranded sea turtles, a threatened species, off the coast of North Carolina in February. The stranding of these turtles, along with the stranding and beaching of thousands of other aquatic life, has unfolded to tell a global climate story, showing near-catastrophic results.

As ocean water temperatures dropped below 50 degrees this past winter, the lives of an estimated 5,000 sea turtles were threatened in the Southeast - 4,500 in Florida alone. The last comparable cold weather sea turtle stranding was in 2001, which affected only 400 turtles. Reports of sightings of motionless sea turtles poured in by the hundreds, prompting the attention of local rescue and rehabilitation centers, as well as state departments of natural resources.

“This is an unprecedented wildlife mortality and is borderline catastrophic,” said Dr. Gregory Bossart, senior vice president and chief veterinary officer of the Georgia Aquarium. “With such extreme changes in our environment, there is growing evidence of global climate change, and unfortunately, wildlife is paying the price. As a steward for conservation and education, our mission is to make a difference in the aquatic community.”

Turtle rehabilitation and rescue facilities all over Florida and the Carolinas rushed to aid the animals and to provide housing, but quickly reached capacity. The Georgia Aquarium and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center were contacted by overwhelmed facilities to help care for the stranded animals. Under guarded health status, the animals were transported to the Georgia Aquarium’s quarantine facility and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, where staff have been treating and monitoring the animals since February.

All of the animals came into the facilities with lesions on their shells, heads, flippers and necks. Some even had heavy pitting in their shells, while all were severely underweight and malnourished. Veterinary staff and biologists worked around the clock, tending to wound care, drawing blood, conducting x-rays, providing antibiotic therapy and holding routine exams monitoring body condition over time. Once the staff felt as though the animals exhibited a healthy status, the team began introducing live food into their diets to ensure their natural predatory instincts would again take over for survival once released.

“All of the turtles in our collective care have come a very long way since being rescued and we are pleased with their progress thus far,” said Dr. Terry Norton, Director of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. “These animals serve as great ambassadors for sea turtle education and conservation, helping to spread the word about the plight of the sea turtle and the marine ecosystem. We are glad to see these animals make their journey back to sea and are excited to watch their progress once released."

Public Relations Contact:
Francesca Allegra   
PR Specialist    
(404) 581-4391          
fallegra@georgiaaquarium.org   

About Loggerhead Sea Turtles
The largest concentration of Loggerhead Sea Turtles resides in the Atlantic Ocean from the coasts of Virginia to Brazil. They can grow to weigh over three hundred pounds and up to three feet in length. Nearly seventy thousand Loggerheads nest in Florida annually. Loggerheads do not reach sexually maturity till 35 years of age, contributing to their ‘threatened’ classification under the Endangered Species Act.

About the Georgia Aquarium
The Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia, is the world’s largest with more than eight million gallons of water and more aquatic life than any other aquarium. The mission of the Georgia Aquarium is to be an entertaining, educational and scientific institution featuring exhibits and programs of the highest standards, offering engaging and exciting guest experiences and promoting the conservation of aquatic biodiversity throughout the world. For additional information, visit www.georgiaaquarium.org

About Georgia Aquarium’s Dolphin Conservation Field Station
Founded in April of 2008, Georgia Aquarium's Dolphin Conservation Field Station is a joint venture between the Georgia Aquarium and Marineland's Dolphin Conservation Center. Funded by donations and grants, its vision is to increase public awareness and contribute to scientific study through conservation. Georgia Aquarium's Dolphin Conservation Field Station is dedicated to the research, rescue, rehabilitation and release of dolphins and small whales in northeast Florida. Georgia Aquarium's Dolphin Conservation Field Station also assists other Stranding Network members within the southeast region (SER). For additional information, visit www.dolphinfieldstation.org.

About the Georgia Sea Turtle Center
The Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island is an operating department of the Jekyll Island Authority and receives financial contributions through the Jekyll Island Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. The Georgia Sea Turtle Center officially opened June 16, 2007 in Jekyll Island, Ga.'s National Historic Landmark District on the site of the original 1903 Power Plant building, much of which has been preserved and incorporated into the new facilities. The ambitious, $3 million center – offering an outstanding museum-style learning experience and a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center and veterinary clinic, is the first of its kind in Georgia and is the world's leading sea turtle rehabilitation, research and education facility. For more information about the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and its programs, visit www.georgiaseaturtlecenter.org.