From the confines of their glass and concrete aquarium, four Green Sea turtles were released in the waters off Olango Island, Lapu-Lapu City yesterday afternoon.
The juvenile turtles, raised in tanks at the BG Rainforest Park in Cebu City, were placed on the sand three feet from the edge of the sea.
They spent a few minutes crawling in various directions before staff of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR)7 picked them up and placed them in the shallow water.
“They have a high survival rate in the wild,” said Ariel Rica, head of the DENR’s protected wildlife division. From a daily diet of frozen shrimp fed at the zoo, the turtles will have to now hunt for live shrimp, frogs and fish in the open sea.
With their small flippers in motion, the turtles glided near the surface, moving farther away from the shore.
After half an hour, the mission to release them in the wild was done and the DENR team, including a biologist and mediamen, pulled out.
Olango was chosen because of its marine and bird sanctuary in the island where four DENR staff members are stationed.
The turtles can be monitored and if needed fed, said Rica.The first choice, the South Road Properties (SRP) in Cebu City which faces a busy harbor and sea lane was set aside.
The DENR earlier ordered BG Rainforest Park to have the reptiles released in the wild because Green Sea turtles are protected by law as endangered species.
The turtles were handed over by zoo staff in the morning to the DENR. Each reptile was placed in a covered plastic containers to to protect them from sunlight.
The lone female sea turtle had bite marks inflicted by other turtles in the aquarium. Rica said “eating each other for survival” was one indication that the aquarium was too small.
Each turtle measured 22 to 25 cm in length and 20 cm to 25 cm in width. They were small hatchlings when they were first donated to the zoo by a private citizen last year. A Green Sea turtle has an average life span of 40 years, and reaches maturity at 8 to 10 years. A female sea turtle can lay 100 to 120 eggs, Rica said.
“When they stayed at the Rainforest Park, the turtles couldn’t breed. They need the shoreline to be able to breed,” Rica said.
The DENR has ordered the private zoo to submit by April 8 a wildlife management plan and records to show that other wildlife on display were acquired from legitimate sources.
A technical conference was held last March 5 in the DENR 7 office with zoo owners to discuss how the zoo can improve its maintenance and handlng of wildlife, said Jose Layese, director of the DENR’s Protected Areas and Wildlife Coastal Zone and Management Services.