After being rescued along the Massachusetts coast last November and December before they froze to death, the sea turtles were nursed back to health and then released from the beach of Little Talbot Island, the coastal state park in Jacksonville.
While rescue workers gave each other high-fives and curious beachgoers gathered to watch, the turtles pulled themselves toward the surf — not always in a straight line — and swam into the ocean waves.
Check out more photos from the release here
The 52 sea turtles were the most ever returned to the ocean at the same time, said Connie Merigo, director of the marine animal rescue and rehabilitation program at the New England Aquarium.
“This is a really big day,” she told the crowd. “It’s a special day for us. You might hear us cheering and clapping. Feel free to join in.”
Then she turned to fellow workers and declared, “Let’s go, guys!”
Even if the released turtles weren’t exactly off to the races, they were off. Before being released, the noise of the ocean waves had some turtles excitedly bumping their crates and trying to squeeze free.
The loggerhead, Kemp’s Ridley and green sea turtles were rescued during annual programs to find “cold-stunned” sea turtles on Massachusetts beaches. Like people suffering hypothermia, the turtles would have died if not for the aid.
The rescue program picked Little Talbot Island to release the turtles because it’s part of the area where the turtles naturally migrate and the water is warm enough this time of year for their re-entry.
“It’s a great natural setting to get the message out about how important the turtles are,” said Jennifer Dittmar of the National Aquarium.
Massachusetts resident Michelle Koch decided on the spur of the moment to travel to Florida and watch the release. She’s been volunteering for the past 12 years to help find and save the cold-stunned turtles when they “barely have a heartbeat.” Sunday was her first time to see them released.
She stood barefoot in the surf and watch them make their halting progress back to the sea.
“It’s wonderful,” she said. “It’s great to see the whole circle from start to finish.”
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