Sunday, July 6, 2008

Georgia Sea Turtle Center Releases an Old Friend into the Sea


AAAG Note: This story inspired our staff. As a result, one of our staff members visited a beach where there are currently 32 turtle nests and spent some time learning about these fabulous creatures from the volunteers who watch over them. Stay tuned as our stories come to life.

PRNewswire/ -- Dylan, a straggler hatchling who was rescued on Jekyll Island almost 10 years ago and became a national ambassador for sea turtles, is going home. Officials from the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island, and the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta released Dylan into the ocean on Monday, June 30th at 11 a.m.

Visitors to Coastal Encounters Nature Center on St. Simons Island, the University of Georgia's Tidelands Nature Center, the Georgia Aquarium and (most recently) the Georgia Sea Turtle Center have enjoyed the sights of this graceful sea turtle for many years. Now that her carapace is over 50 cm long, Dylan is big enough to return to the ocean according to standards set by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

Since last summer, when Dylan returned to Jekyll Island from the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, she has been learning the skills needed to return to the wild - including identifying and capturing natural prey such as blue crabs, horseshoe crabs and whelks.

At 3 p.m. on the day prior to her release, Dylan will also be fitted with a special satellite transmitter, providing Georgia Sea Turtle Center (GSTC) researchers and visitors to the GSTC and Georgia Aquarium Web sites the opportunity to monitor her activities and movements. This will be the first time that a sea turtle has been raised entirely in captivity for this long and then released with a tracking device. By studying her movements, researchers may be able to learn about some of the differences between learned and inherited behaviors.

"We are very pleased with Dylan's progress," said Dr. Terry Norton, Director of Veterinary Services and Interim Director of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. "She has come a long way in the last year and has been a great representative of 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 her depart for her real home at sea and are excited to watch her travels once she is released."

"The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is an exciting project initiated by the Jekyll Island Foundation and the Jekyll Island Authority. The Center reflects our commitment to conservation, preservation and education," said William Lattimore, Jr., Chairman of the Jekyll Island Foundation. "This is a very special event for the entire community. Dylan's release is indeed an appropriate finale for Sea Turtle Weekend, the anniversary celebration of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center."

After outgrowing her tank at the Tidelands Nature Center in Jekyll Island, a partnership was formed with the Georgia Aquarium, where Dylan was relocated in November 2005. She returned to Jekyll Island in May of 2007, arriving at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center shortly before its official public opening, becoming the second patient.

"The Georgia Aquarium's partnership with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center has been important and hugely successful," said Ray Davis, Senior Vice President of Zoological Operations at the Georgia Aquarium. "We loved having Dylan in Atlanta and were sad to see her go, but it is certainly important that she will be released and continues to educate and inspire the future stewards of our oceans."

The loggerhead sea turtle is threatened worldwide and is under consideration for being reclassified as "endangered" due to diminishing populations in the Western Atlantic Ocean. Because sea turtles nest on land, responsibility for their conservation is shared between the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and various state agencies and independent conservation organizations.

About the Georgia Sea Turtle Center

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 and interactive learning experience and a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center and veterinary clinic that is visible to the general public, is the first of its kind in Georgia and focuses on sea turtle rehabilitation, research and education. For more information about the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and its programs, visit www.georgiaseaturtlecenter.org .

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