Heading home: 22 sea turtles released from rehab

TOPSAIL BEACH, N.C. -- With the pageantry of a high school prom, nearly two dozen sea turtles were returned to their ocean home on Wednesday in the largest single release from the Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center since it opened more than a decade ago.

The turtles --14 greens and eight loggerheads -- ranged in size from 20 to 200 pounds and represented about half the patient population at the turtle hospital. Founder Jean Beasley said she often compares the releases to parents sending their children off to college, happy that they're ready to face the world but keenly aware of the dangers it holds. "It's a day of cheers and tears," Beasley said after the turtles had been sent swimming into the brisk, clear surf under a cloudless June sky.

All seven species of sea turtles alive today are listed as threatened or endangered. Once hunted for their meat and shells, they are now more often injured or killed by being unintentionally snared by fishing nets or hit by boats. Turtles can also become entangled in marine debris, including discarded nets. Heavy coastline development is another problem for sea turtles, which must lay their eggs in nests dug in dry sand. The eggs must be kept safe from predators, and the hatchlings must be able to navigate quickly to the ocean, not drawn by light to the shore. Researchers say only one in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings survive their first year of life, and one in 5,000 to 10,000 make it to maturity, which for some turtles takes 30 years.

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