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Rehabbed loggerhead sea turtles return to the wild

Posted at 7:52 PM, Dec 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-12-29 04:18:26-05

Two Loggerhead sea turtles -- once on the brink of death -- have been released back into the wild, bringing what has been a difficult 2017 full circle.

It was a big day on Thursday at Loggerhead Marinelife Center for turtles Brother Kenny and Brieanna.

"It is wonderful to see two turtles that came in -- looking so grim -- and be able to rehabilitate them and get them back out," said the sea turtle hospital coordinator, Nicole Montgomery.

Brother Kenny and Brieanna spent the last several months recovering from chronic debilitation after being found in August in the St. Lucie Power Plant intake canal. Various marine life passes through the canal on a regular basis and because the area is monitored by wildlife staff, sick or injured turtles are often found and brought immediately to Loggerhead Marinelife Center for treatment.

The journey for Brother Kenny and Brieanna hasn't been easy. The two were part of the group of turtles evacuated to the Georgia Aquarium during Hurricane Irma.

Montgomery drove them there herself.

"It took 15 and a half hours. I got there at 5:30 in the morning," she recalls.

The turtles were brought back safely to Juno Beach once power was restored following the storm. Brother Kenny and Brieanna continued their treatment and healing process until the two fully recovered and became eligible for release.

Hundreds of people filled the beach during Thursday's release, cheering on the turtles as they begin the new year back in the ocean.

"It's a great feeling to see them come from what they did when they came in, to being so healthy and being able to thrive again back in the wild," said Montgomery.

Thursday's event also highlights the record breaking sea turtle nesting season at nearly 20,000 nests total, despite the devastation from Hurricane Irma.

"Since we had a record breaking nesting season overall, it wasn't a huge loss for us on this section of beach so that's promising," said research data manager Sarah Hirsch. "Sea turtles know how to adapt to natural events like hurricanes."

Hirsch added, "We were fairly lucky on this stretch of beach. Hurricane Irma did cause some erosion however, the storm was pretty late in the season. It didn't really impact the loggerheads and the leatherbacks that much since their nesting season starts much earlier."

The reason for a record breaking year has to do with the green sea turtles, one of three species that lays nests in Palm Beach County. Green turtles laid a record breaking number of nests for 2017 at 7,808 nests.

“And that record actually pushed us over the edge," explained Hirsch. “Green turtles nest in a high low alternating pattern. So last year was a low year, 2013 was a high year.”

Here's another record breaker this year: Researchers also logged some of the latest green sea turtle nests on record, laid over a week after nesting season ended on Oct. 31. 

Click here to learn more about this year's nesting data.