WASSAW ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) – They call him Rider… a loggerhead sea turtle that hatched on Wassaw Island three years ago, but never made it to the ocean. Tuesday he got a second chance at life in the sea.
“They’re a straggler in the nest, so there’s probably no chance that they would’ve made it out on their own,” said Lisa Olenderski, UGA Aquarium assistant curator.
The Caretta Project and UGA Education Center and Aquarium took Rider in to nurture it.
“On the Caretta Research… we protect the hatchlings to allow them to incubate successfully, and that’s actually where Rider came from,” Joe Phaller, the research director with the Caretta Research Project.
“There’s never a dull moment when you’re taking care of a large sea turtle… they’re beautiful and they’re kind of curious, so they’re a little bit like a toddler,” said Olenderski.
Now that Rider is 50 lbs. and just about two feet long, he’s ready to try it again. On Tuesday morning the group tagged him and took him from his tank at the aquarium back out to Wassaw Island National Wildlife Refuge to be released.
“This is the first turtle that I’ve actually been there for the entire process of hatchling to release, so it was a little sad, for sure, but it was definitely an exciting moment, and something you’ll kind of remember,” said Olenderski.
“They’re genetically programmed to survive in the ocean, so he’s got everything he already needs to be successful out there,” said Phaller, “When they’re small, there’s a lot of things that like to eat them – Riders at the point now where there’s not very many things that like to prey on him, as long as he can stay near the bottom and away from those sharks, he’ll be okay.”
Phaller says its also important for boaters to remember the motto, “Go slow for those below.”
“We accepted Rider in and helped it sort of get a kick start and in turn it really helped us educate thousands of people,” said UGA Aquarium curator, Devin Dumont.
Over Rider’s time at the aquarium, it saw more than 70,000 people and was able to teach kindergarten through 12th grade students visiting as part of the aquarium’s education program all about the loggerhead sea turtle population.
“Loggerheads are one of those most common sea turtle that you’ll find on the coast, and also the most common nesting sea turtle that you’ll find,” said Olenderski, “And really important animals for the ecosystem from open ocean to coastal habitats.”
They’re not sure if Rider is a boy or a girl, but they’re hoping if it is a girl, she’ll end up visiting Wassaw Island again to hatch her own eggs.
If you’d like to take part in their work, the Caretta Research Project accepts volunteers every day of summer. You can find more information on their website.