Columbia, S.C. – Two years ago, a green sea turtle hatched from a nest on the south end of the Grand Strand. The tiny hatchling was collected by South Carolina United Turtle Enthusiasts (SCUTE) who partnered with South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) to send “Destiny” to Riverbanks Zoo and Garden where she could thrive under the care of aquarists. This head start program started decades ago through a partnership between SCDNR and Riverbanks. On October 11, 2023, Riverbanks staff, SCDNR, and SCUTE volunteers waved good-bye to Destiny as she was released into an inlet leading to the ocean near Georgetown, SC, not too far from where she hatched.
“Hatchlings are at a great risk of predation from other animals, making survivability very low. By assisting SCDNR and rearing these hatchlings, Riverbanks can increase the longevity of their life and ensure they reach adulthood,” says Kendra Bottini, aquarium curator at Riverbanks. “In addition, this program gives us the chance to educate the public about sea turtles and the impact that humans can have on their life.”
Biologist in the marine turtle division of SCDNR, Jeffrey Schwenter, adds, “For me, this release is all about the partnerships, and all of the people each year that come together to help the conservation of sea turtles in South Carolina.” Before being released, Schwenter also implanted a scannable ID chip in Destiny. “If decades from now Destiny were to come up on land to lay eggs, someone could scan her, and we would immediately know that eyes have been laid on her,” he explains.
Aquarists at Riverbanks had a few weeks to prepare for the departure. At the end of September, Destiny was transferred from the main tank in the Aquarium and Reptile Conservation Center to a holding tank, allowing her natural instincts to kick in so she could start self-sustaining. Sarah Weaver, an aquarist at Riverbanks who aided in the release, reflects, “Knowing that this sea turtle that I helped raise from a hatchling is going to go out and help continue the cycle softens the blow a little.”
Adding to the bittersweet experience, on October 10, a new green sea turtle hatchling arrived at Riverbanks. The new, yet-unnamed resident came from a nest at Huntington Beach State Park. According to Bottini, the new hatchling is doing fantastic—already diving and swimming much more strongly than she would have expected. She exclaims, “Every time I see a new hatchling, I’m like, ‘oh my gosh, it’s so small.’ You forget how small they are after watching them grow for two years, but it’s always so exciting for a new turtle to come in and start again.” The new turtle will be allowed to grow behind-the scenes for the next few months and then join a habitat for Zoo visitors to see in the early part of 2024.
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