It was a good day to be a turtle. The boat ride had been bumpy, but the Gulf Stream waters were deep blue. Miss Royal didn't hesitate. The 215-pound endangered loggerhead flippered away on Wednesday.
"She was raring to go," said Kelly Thorvalson, South Carolina Aquarium sea turtle rescue program manager.
Miss Royal and Nud, a 71-pound juvenile loggerhead were released 10 months after they were brought to the aquarium's sea turtle hospital.
Miss Royal had been struck by a boat propeller. Nud had a skin infection among other problems and was so critically ill for three weeks staffers weren't sure he would make it. They are the 132nd and 133rd sea turtles to be rehabilitated and released by the aquarium since 2000.
They got a free boat trip to the Gulf Stream courtesy of volunteers Sandra and Kevin Gary, of Mount Pleasant, because sea turtles must be released in a specific range of temperatures.
During cold months, aquarium volunteers run them as far as 60 miles offshore to release them in the warmer Gulf Stream waters. In warmer months they are released on the beach.
The loggerhead, as big around as a bistro table, is a beloved, beleaguered totem of the South Carolina coast.
Thousands of nests are laid here each summer and watched by a virtual army of volunteer groups.
Half the loggerhead nests laid outside of Florida are laid in South Carolina.
Each of the seven sea turtle species is considered endangered or threatened.
Hunted for food or eggs, struck by boats, hung in nets, they appear to have been in a long decline, and they have been on the federal list for a generation.
With nesting protection and other conservation efforts like the one led by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, biologists think the loggerhead at least might be turning the corner on recovery.
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