About a hundred people gathered under the Ponquogue Bridge in Hampton Bays Sunday to bid a loud farewell to 10 sea turtles rescued and rehabilitated by the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.
Hypothermia had struck nine Atlantic Green sea turtles and one Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle in the chilly waters off the East End at the time they were found stranded between November through January, according to Rachel Bosworth, the foundation’s spokeswoman.
Fully recovered, the sea turtles — all named after a different Greek god or goddess — slowly crawled back to the sea Sunday in front of a large crowd of cheering children and adults.
The group of sea turtles was the largest released by the Riverhead Foundation at once, said Kim Durham, the rescue program director.
The animals fell victim to hypothermia, also known as “cold stunning,” during the winter months when the water temperature dips below 50 degrees, Bosworth said. Cold stunning impairs the turtles’ ability to eat or swim and makes it difficult for them to migrate south to warmer waters.
Had it not been for volunteers and people who called the Riverhead Foundation’s hotline to report the stranded sea turtles, “these animals likely wouldn’t have survived,” Durham said.
During their stay on the East End, the turtles were kept in tanks, were visited regularly by volunteer veterinarians and enjoyed meals of fish and squid, Bosworth said.
Five of the turtles were also outfitted with sonic tags that will ping their locations when they near a national system of sonic detectors. According to Durham, the turtles may linger in the area for a while longer before starting their migration south.
Third graders Mollie Greene and Sasha Boddu both waved goodbye to Nyx and Narcissus — the turtles their class at Bretton Woods Elementary School in Hauppauge helped by donating funds toward their recovery.
“It makes me really happy and proud to see that we helped them become healthy and return home,” said Greene, 8.
Tara McPhillips, a volunteer at the foundation, held Chione, an Atlantic Green sea turtle, before gingerly setting it down on the sand and watching as the sea turtle crawled into the water. McPhillips helped rescue Chione, whom she found lying lethargically on a beach in Southampton in December.
“When we first found it, we didn’t know if it was gonna make it,” said McPhillips, 24, of Medford. “It’s so great to see everything come full circle, and to see it healthy and able to head back home.”