After nearly a year in swimming pools under the roof of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island, two loggerhead sea turtle patients needed a moment to compose themselves before heading back out into the vast Atlantic Ocean that s stretched before them.
But after a few minutes of contemplation, eyes firmly fixed on the waves shimmering under a cloudless blue sky on Friday morning, Margoi and Genie returned to the ocean they’ve called home for decades.
An enthusiastic cheer squad bid them farewell on Jekyll Beach in the first public release of turtle patients hosted by the Georgia Sea Turtle Center since the summer of 2019.
“These are our adult female loggerhead sea turtles, and they both came to see us last summer,” said Michelle Kaylor, director of the Georgia Sea Turtle Center.
The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is the only sea turtle rehabilitation and education center in the state. Center staff, AmeriCorps members and volunteers were on hand Friday to assist with the release.
These events are intended to provide education about sea turtles and the work at the center, Kaylor said.
“It’s so important because it will leave such a lasting impression on everyone,” she said.
The public release is also part of the launch of sea turtle nesting season, which begins May 1 in Georgia and runs through October 31.
Female turtles will lay their nests primarily in May and June, and hatchlings will begin making their way into the ocean later in the summer and early fall.
On Friday morning, Georgia Sea Turtle staff members removed Margoi and Genie from their hospital pools and brought them to the beach, where a crowd waited to cheer on the turtles as they returned to the ocean.
Margoi arrived at the center on July 12, 2021, with barnacles, algae and leeches on her shell and skin. She also had a mass on her right front fin and was anemic. A deep abscess was later discovered on his left front fin joint. She received a fish skin graft to help treat the wound.
Genie arrived on May 28, 2021. Both turtles were from the Jacksonville area. Genie had a large piece missing from her beak and snout, which left her with an exposed sinus cavity. She also suffered from a broken head between her eye sockets.
Screws and wires were placed around the fractures for about a month, and she was given anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and pain medication while her injuries healed.
She received extra care to help her gain the much-needed weight.
“We are thrilled to report that Genie weighs 164 pounds and is eating enthusiastically, moving around her tank and her injuries are fully healed,” center staff member Traci Melton said over loudspeaker. during the event. “So we’re so excited that she and Margoi are ready to go back to the ocean.”
Families, school trips and other beachgoers stood behind ropes that left a wide, clear path to the water for the two turtles to be released.
Melton asked the crowd to be as quiet as possible as the turtles took turns landing in front of the welcoming waves and making their way through the water.
Both Margoi and Genie needed encouragement from Sea Turtle Center veterinarian Dr. Terry Norton and other center staff. The crowd watched quietly as the turtles peered into the waters, motionless for many minutes. Center staff brought the turtles closer to the water at regular intervals, and eventually Margoi and Genie were out of sight under the waves.
Both times Norton raised his arms in triumph and the crowd cheered enthusiastically.
“Well done, Genie,” Melton said. “Awesome. Just like with Margoi, it may take some time to adjust to the beach and ocean again after spending time at our facility. But they are both back home. Best wishes , Margoi and Genie.
The kickoff to nesting season will continue on Jekyll later this month with the return of a live Turtle Crawl. Like public turtle outings, an in-person Turtle Crawl has not been held since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020.
The Turtle Crawl 10K, 5K, 1K Fun Run will take place on April 30 on Jekyll. A “Ghost Crawler” virtual participation option is also available.
All parties to the event support the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, on behalf of the Jekyll Island Foundation. Participants will receive a commemorative t-shirt and those who top their race category will win a metal.
“We are thrilled to be back with Turtle Crawl live and in person,” said Nancy Kring-Rowan, event operations manager at the Jekyll Island Authority. “While last year’s virtual event was a great success and we continue to offer the Ghost Crawler virtual participant option, nothing beats the energy and excitement of an in-person, family-friendly race. with a breathtaking backdrop like Jekyll Island.”
Races will begin on the beach side of the island and a new finish line will be set up at Beach Village.
“Merchants from Beach Village, our largest Turtle Crawl sponsor, as well as many of our registered race participants have expressed their excitement to come together again for this important and valuable cause,” Kring said. -Rowan. “They really make a difference to the education of sea turtles in our coastal region.”
Race day attendees can also take advantage of the Shell-e-Brate Celebration which will include family activities and hands-on learning from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on April 30 at the Sea Turtle Center.