Christian Legner of the Roanoke Island Aquarium with kids from Water’s Edge Charter School in Corolla.  Hernando is about to return to the sea.

Every once in a while, if you live on the Outer Banks, something comes along that really reminds you of what an amazing place this is to live. I had a chance to be a part of a sea turtle release on Wednesday evening and it was a wonderful reminder of so many things that are special about this area.

Hernando the Kemp’s Ridley, is a young turtle–we know this for two reasons. First of all, Christian Legner of the Roanoke Island Aquarium, who has taken the lead in turtle rehab, carried him (?) the last 10 yards to the Atlantic Ocean. Since a full grown Kemp’s Ridley is 100 pounds and up–it’s pretty clear he’s not an adult.

And–no one’s sure if he’s a he. There’s no visible sexual differentiation between males and females until a Kemp’s Ridley is mature. So Hernando may be Ernestine or Maggie. For the record, they determine the sex of adults by the tail–males have a longer tail than females.

There were about a dozen kids from Corolla’s Water’s Edge Charter School there to help with the release. The folks from N.E.S.T. (Network for Endangered Sea Turtles) were there–they were the ones who brought Hernando to the Aquarium. And then there were a good 125 to 150 people gathered to witness the release.

It all took place down in South Nags Head at Coquina Beach just across from Bodie Island Light.

On a busy day on the beach when the sand is crowded from the dunes to the ocean, it doesn’t seem as though the Outer Banks would be a natural part of any sea turtle’s habitat–but they do come ashore and they do nest here. Primarily on Pea Island, where there is no permanent human population, but turtle nests are found frequently from Corolla to Nags Head.

If a nest is found it’s marked and monitored–usually by N.E.S.T., and when the eggs hatch, it’s pretty exciting. A lot of people show up, gather around and watch the hatchlings trundle off into the sea. It’s important not to have any lights shining when they hatch. Sea turtles are attracted to light and fresh out of their shell, they’ll head straight for a light instead of the water–which is why there are strict restrictions on ORV nighttime driving around nests.

There are interactions other than nests and hatching between sea turtles and the Outer Banks and Hernando is an excellent example of that. He beached about six months ago, a very sick young turtle. According to the folks at the Aquarium, it looked like he had some form of neurological damage, wouldn’t eat and was extremely weak. He actually had to be force fed for a couple of months until he started to regain his strength. It seems like a lot of work to save a turtle, but almost all sea turtles are considered threatened and the Kemp’s Ridley is on most endangered species lists.

There are a lot of sea turtle beachings along the Outer Banks, especially in winter when cold air and water temperatures come together to shock turtles. The Aquarium does have a rehab facility, but especially during the winter, it can and does get overwhelmed. They did just get a grant to build a rehab facility, and hopefully it will be ready in the next three to four months.