OFF WRIGHTSVILLE BEACH, NC (WECT) - Hundreds of cheering fans lined the beach, cameras in position, and kids were grinning ear to ear.
That’s normally the scene for a sea turtle release, but Tuesday’s event on Topsail Island was not so typical.
“We had to reschedule this release. Thirteen turtles were supposed to be released on Topsail the day Hurricane Florence blew through,” said Joe Heidel, a volunteer with the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital.
One by one, 13 sea turtles, some Kemps Ridley, some Green Sea species, were unloaded from a cargo van and onto a scuba diving boat, an unorthodox route for sure.
“We are going to go about 15 miles off shore to release them,” said Heidel.
It was a different route into the crisp, blue Atlantic for these sea creatures.
“The beaches along Topsail are closed. It’s just too dangerous for the turtles and for our volunteers,” said Heidel. “There is so much debris and hazardous stuff in the water, so we need to think about safety.”
Flip flopping away in their bins, the turtles were eager to head home. After a 30-minute boat rise, it was time for their journey.
“Oh my God, am I going to drop him?” said one volunteer.
“Kiss him before you go,” said another volunteer with a tear in her eye.
The turtles made a splash into the sparkling sea, with many getting a send off kiss before they wiggled and waddled away in a flash.
After a long road of rehabilitation, these turtles were finally where they belong.
“They are part of the family," Heidel said. "(We) get very attached to them. It’s a bittersweet day. We are glad that they are going, but we are certainly going to miss them.”