A huge crowd took to the beach at Henderson BeachState Park on Wednesday morning to witness the release of four sea turtles.
DESTIN — Members of the Gulfarium C.A.R.E. Foundation, which rehabilitates sick and injured sea turtles, released two sub-adult female loggerheads and two juvenile green turtles of undetermined gender into the Gulf of Mexico at Henderson Beach State Park on Wednesday.
“They can smell the salt air and they know it’s time,” said Meredith Horn, the Gulfarium's director of marketing and communication. “The moment they hit the sand, they’re ready to go home.”
Scooby, the first of the turtles to be set free, was also the one that had received the most care during her time at the Gulfarium. She was found March 10 floating on her side in East Pass. She was covered in barnacles and was suffering from severe intestinal disease and pneumonia.
But Wednesday, the healthy 108-pound loggerhead turtle quickly swam back into the Gulf to cheers from hundreds of bystanders.
“I cried for Scooby,” said onlooker Jennifer McGlone of Niceville. “I’ve lived here five years and this was my first time coming to see turtles released.”
Green sea turtles Jalapeno and Habenero were next, each having only been in the C.A.R.E. program for three weeks and one week, respectively.
Jalapeno was found June 1 entangled by a fishing line and hook, and was subsequently attached to a piling at the Navarre Beach Fishing Pier.
Habenero was the fastest of the four turtles to recover, having been hooked by a fisherman at Navarre Fishing Pier on June 25.
As for Martha, the last turtle to be released, she took her time on her way back to the Gulf, posing for photos and waving her fins. The 135-pound loggerhead, was found at Henderson Beach State Park in a similar condition to Scooby. However, by Wednesday she was healthy and happy to head home.
As staff members held her, she started paddling her fins in the air. After swimming away, she stopped on the sandbar and looked back at those gathered on the beach.
“It was really cool,” 11-year-old Emily Zeigler of Atlanta said of the turtle release. “I thought they were going to fall back into the land, but instead they were really fast!”
“That was a successful release,” Horn said. “Four turtles got back out, so that was a great success. We are so thrilled for the support for sea turtles. This crowd is just proof that people care, and that is very rewarding for us.”