BEYOND THE BANKS: Riverbanks Zoo releases 3rd sea turtle back into the wild as part of broader conservation effort with SCDNR

Published: Oct. 3, 2019 at 5:53 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Two years ago, we told you the story of Scute, the green sea turtle.

Scute was the second sea turtle to be cared for and released by Riverbanks Zoo as part of a wider conservation partnership effort with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. On Thursday, the zoo said a bittersweet goodbye to its third turtle, Cheli. But with one goodbye comes a hello and Cheli’s tank won’t be empty for long.

"It's bittersweet,” Riverbanks Zoo and Garden Aquarium Curator Jennifer Rawlings said ahead of the release. “They're going back into the wild to meet other green sea turtles to reproduce and hopefully contribute back to the wild populations."

Rawlings is talking about a partnership between Riverbanks Zoo and Garden and SCDNR that gets sea turtles from nature to nurture – and then back to nature.

"We just let them do their thing,” Rawlings said. “We make sure they're going to be able to forage on their own, meaning they can find food. We don't interact with them very much when they're here."

Riverbanks holds onto the sea turtles for approximately two years before releasing the animals into the wild. Two years ago, they released Scute in Bluffton. On Thursday, they released Cheli in Georgetown. The spot is predetermined and selected by SCDNR, where the water is the right temperature and with other turtles in the area.

Approximately one in 100 green sea turtles lives to adulthood, Rawlings said. It’s what makes this partnership incredibly important. She said the process of saying goodbye is never easy.

“We do develop a close bond with them,” she said.

But this goodbye is softened by the cutest of hellos as the zoo welcomes its next hatchling into the aquarium. He barely fits in the palm of Rawlings’ hand and recently hatched in Garden City Beach.

You’ll be able to see the littlest addition on exhibit at Riverbanks in a couple of months once he grows a little bigger.

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