We recently released our first baby green sea turtles of the season. When it comes to releasing young sea turtles, there is a lot to take into consideration before the release.
Is the turtle ready for release?
At the Conflict Islands Conservation Initiative we have a checklist that the turtles must pass before they are considered for a release. Having this checklist, ensures that turtles are only released when they have the best chance of surviving in the wild. Baby sea turtles only have a 1% chance of survival in the wild, by ensuring that the turtles released are the strongest they can be will allow them to have the best chance of surviving to adulthood.
Our release check list:
Off all medication for a minimum of 14 days
Actively eating on its own
Able to capture live food
At a stable weight
Normal bodily function
Swimming and diving without assistance
Able to lift head strongly to breathe
Attempting to crawl when on solid ground
Able to "swim" when lifted out of the water
Where/when is best to release a turtle?
The best time of day to release a young sea turtle is in the late afternoon and evening, as this is when they normally emerge from their nest. The sea turtles use the light from the sun/moon to navigate out into the open ocean. To ensure the turtles have the best chance of survival it is optimal to release them during high or ebb tide, to assist with their transport offshore.
Turtles less than 2 days old need to be released from the beach, place the turtles on the sand (near the water’s edge) and allow them to run into the water on their own. Never place the turtles directly into the water!
Turtles older than 2 days need to be released into the water. For most species (not flatbacks!) this means releasing the baby turtles offshore, in the open ocean. This is where the young turtles should be at their age and it also reduces the predation levels (compared to on the reef and in nearshore waters).
Knowledge of local ocean currents is also ideal, as releasing the turtles in favourable currents can assist in their transport to the ideal habitat for their species and size-class. At the Conflict Islands that means young green and hawksbill turtles, who need to be transported into warm water and off the continental shelf.
These turtles return to shallow waters when they reach a carapace length of 30-40cm.