SINGAPORE: Two rescued sea turtles swam to freedom on Tuesday (Jun 19) after more than two years of rehabilitation.
Hawke, a critically endangered male hawksbill turtle, and Louie, an endangered green sea turtle, were released by the SEA Aquarium into the waters around Singapore in the hope that they breed and increase the population in the wild.
Hawke was released at about 10.50am in the waters of Sisters' Island Marine Park while Louie was released about an hour later in the waters of Pulau Semakau, SEA Aquarium and Resorts World Sentosa said in a press release.
"Both started swimming immediately in the water and disappeared from sight within seconds," said the two organisations. "Following the release, Louie was later spotted swimming near the same boat with its head out of the water, as though it was bidding farewell to its caretakers."
The turtles were tagged and microchipped so they could be identified should they return to Singapore's shores, they said, adding that the two release points were chosen in consultation with the National Parks Board.
"It is an emotional moment for our team today to see Hawke and Louie return to the ocean, but our end goal has always been to nurse these turtles back to health and release them back into their natural environment," said Mr Kenneth Kwang Keng Hei, aquarist at SEA Aquarium.
"Our team has spent more than two exciting years caring for them like our babies and it is an aquarist’s dream to see our animals grow healthy after rehabilitation and return to the wild so they can contribute to the overall marine ecosystem.”
Both turtles had made their "official debut" during World Turtle Day last year and were the first sea turtles to join SEA Aquarium's marine life collection, according to the aquarium and Resorts World Sentosa.
Louie was only one week old when it was handed over to the aquarium on Sep 28, 2015. The turtle had been found by a member of the public in a drain, and weighed only 20g when it first arrived at the aquarium.
It has since grown to about 61cm in length and weighs 21.5kg.
Hawke arrived at the aquarium on Mar 24, 2016 after being found in the sea by a member of the public.
Believed to have been abandoned by its owner, who had kept it illegally as a pet, the turtle weighed 800g when it first arrived but has since grown to 59cm in length and weighs 23kg.
In addition, it has a slightly pyramided carapace - a shell deformity likely attributed to poor nutrition and care during its early years, according to the aquarium and Resorts World Sentosa.
To prepare the turtles for their release, Hawke and Louie were gradually moved from back-of-house areas to larger habitats at the aquarium to "encourage exploration" and interaction with other "compatible marine life", said the aquarium and Resorts World Sentosa.
In addition, the aquarists fed the turtles a diet similar to that found in the wild including items such as sea jellies, squids and prawns.
Before their release, the aquarium's animal health team conducted a "thorough veterinary examination" which indicated both were healthy and suitable for release.
According to the aquarium and Resorts World Sentosa, there are seven different species of sea turtles: Green, hawksbill, Kemp's ridley, olive ridley, leatherback, loggerhead and flatback.
Of these, six are considered threatened according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. Flatbacks are not listed as threatened due to insufficient data.
Worldwide, sea turtles face many threats (primarily from humans), including injuries from boat propellers, entanglement in fishing nets, plastic pollution and poaching for eggs, meat, skin and shells.