COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - For the last three years, a green sea turtle named Scute has become a staple at Riverbanks Zoo in the Aquarium Reptile Complex.
Scute was brought to Riverbanks in 2014 as a hatchling from the South Carolina coast as part of species conservation efforts with the intention that one day he would go back into the wild.
He's the second green sea turtle to be cared for and released by Riverbanks Zoo, but he's part of a larger partnership with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources that has also seen more than 100 loggerhead sea turtles released back into the wild after being cared for at the zoo.
"I'm excited, and it's a little bit bittersweet," said Jennifer Rawlings, Aquarium Curator at Riverbanks Zoo who was helping to prepare Scute for his big trip home when we met her. "To have a turtle go back to his home in the wild is really amazing for us."
It's also significant for a struggling sea turtle population in South Carolina that SCDNR estimates only has one in every 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings survive into adulthood. Scute, at 3-years-old and 50 pounds, has been getting prepped to go back to the sea. He's recently been off his Riverbanks Zoo exhibit and perhaps, unknowingly, preparing for his special day.
"We do cool the water down a little bit just so it's closer to what he's going to experience when we release him," said Rawlings. "We also broadcast his food to him so he gets to forage on his own a little bit more than he normally would under our care, so we know he's going to be successful and be able to feed when he's out there in the ocean."
It does not have a name yet, but the hatchling will follow in Scute's footsteps and spend the next three years at Riverbanks.