Once a sea turtle’s bloodwork is trending in the right direction and their injuries are healed, we will begin the process of preparing them for release. They are taken off their medications and monitored for two weeks to a month, then undergo a final checkup. If the results are good, our veterinary team will clear the patient for release!
Our Healing Center staff will then reach out to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) with the sea turtle’s information, and FWC will determine where the sea turtle is to be released. This location is generally influenced by where the sea turtle stranded; FWC does their best to put the turtles back where they came from. For example, a sea turtle found in the Indian River Lagoon will be released there, and an offshore sea turtle will be released in the open ocean.
Under FWC’s guidelines, we have one week to send the turtle home after it is cleared for release. Whether the event is public or not is dependent on the logistics of parking, number of people expected to attend and access to the location. If a release is public, we will notify local media organizations and send our invitations out to the public through social media or a news release.
Prior to release, a grain-of-rice-sized passive integrated transponder (PIT) tag is inserted into a flipper. Sea turtles that are longer than 12 inches also get external identifying tags on each front flipper. In the case that a sea turtle is released and then stranded again, the next rehabilitation facility will be able to scan these tags and contact us about the patient’s history and condition.
On release day, the rehabilitated sea turtle will be transported to their location in a Zoo vehicle. Volunteers will also travel to the location to set up barriers and direct the public where to go. And as quickly as they came to us, they’ll be off in the water!
Release day is always bittersweet for our Healing Center staff and volunteers; they are happy for the success of the sea turtle’s rehabilitation journey, but sad that an animal they have cared for is leaving. We hope that release day is the last time that we see the turtles (coming back would mean another stranding) and wish them well on the rest of their journey!
Did you know it costs roughly $2,000 to treat and release just one patient? Help us get more sick and injured sea turtles back on their flippers and out in the ocean by contributing to our #GivingZOOday campaign!