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The Impact of Rescue, Rehabilitation, Relocation and Release Programs on Sea Turtles

Chelonian Conservation and Biology – Due to increasing interest from the general public, more attention is being paid to wildlife conservation efforts such as wildlife rescue, rehabilitation, relocation and release (RRRR) programs. RRRR programs have become an integral part of veterinary medicine and its teachings, with some schools even maintaining wildlife hospitals. Although the RRRR efforts being made by wildlife rehabilitators are still considered controversial with respect to overall environmental impact, projects to obtain more tangible data are underway.

In an effort to track the success of RRRR programs, researchers from conservation institutions in Massachusetts, North Carolina, Georgia and Florida published a study in the current issue of Chelonian Conservation and Biology that followed the progress of several different species of chelonians, specifically sea turtles. Currently, chelonians are considered some of the most vulnerable vertebrates with regard to extinction.

The researchers sent surveys to all 42 facilities in the United States involved with sea turtle rehabilitation. Of these, 34 facilities and one state agency responded by giving information about the number of turtles released before 1997, from 1997 to 2006 and from 2007 to 2016, as well as the number of turtles released with transponder tags and how many tagged turtles were re-encountered after release.

The researchers found that a total of 11,417 sea turtles were released up to 2016, with 8,836 having transponder tags. A total of 314 initial re-encounters and six second re-encounters were reported by 20 facilities. The number of re-encounters appeared proportional to the number of turtles released by each facility; Florida, Texas and North Carolina reported the largest numbers. The authors also found that 78% of re-encounters were with live sea turtles, and the majority of those were with stranded, sick or injured turtles. A total of 12 turtles were re-encountered during nesting events.

The results of this study have shown that more than 11,417 sea turtles were released from an RRRR program through 2016 and that their rehabilitation allowed for at least 12 turtles to participate in successful nesting (and repopulation) events. Although more than 11,000 sea turtles were not re-encountered, their fate cannot be assumed. Many of the turtles in the RRRR program were juveniles, who will not reach sexual maturity for many years; males typically never return to land; and females may choose to nest in remote locations or participate in nocturnal nesting. These factors provide valid reasons the turtles were not seen again. The researchers also found the number of transponder tags increased from only one before 1997 to more than 8,000 since, leading to a better, broader way to track the turtles after RRRR programs.

Overall, the researchers found very encouraging results from this study as to the number of turtles successfully released from the RRRR program. They pointed out that although the number of transponder tags has exponentially increased, there is no single identification method for the tags, so data are easily lost. Coordination of a single technology for these tags would aid in data capture immensely and increase the understanding of researchers and conservationists regarding the impact of RRRR programs.

Full text of the article, “A Summary of Sea Turtles Released from Rescue and Rehabilitation Programs in the United States, with Observations on Re-Encounters,” Chelonian Conservation and Biology, Vol. 18, No. 2, 2019, is now available here.
About Chelonian Conservation and Biology
Chelonian Conservation and Biology
is an international scientific journal of turtle and tortoise research. Its objective is to share any aspects of research on turtles and tortoises. Of special interest are articles dealing with conservation biology, systematic relationships, chelonian diversity, geographic distribution, natural history, ecology, reproduction, morphology and natural variation, population status, husbandry, community conservation initiatives, and human exploitation or conservation management issues. For more information, please visit

Media Contact:
Dominique Scanlan
Allen Press, Inc.
800/627-0326 ext. 226
[email protected]
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