An Olive ridley turtle (vulnerable species), roughly aged between four and seven years of age, got a new lease of life as it was released into the sea, near the Chennai coast, in Southern India. On January 21st this year, this turtle was found south of the Chennai coast, entangled in a “ghost net'(fishing nets that are abandoned and lost in the ocean) that weighed over 1.4 tonnes. Being entangled in the net for several months had caused near-fatal injuries to the soft tissue around the neck and amputation of the right frontal flipper.

Turtles find it difficult to survive in the wild without their flippers, as the fore flippers are used for navigation, whereas the hind flippers act as a rudder and help the turtle with steering. Having one frontal flipper damaged creates great difficulty for them in locating food and going after it. Generally, turtles remain just below the surface of the water and come up to the surface only to breathe, and they make a deep dive when finding prey.

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Brought to the TREE Foundation Rescue Rehabilitation Centre, the turtle was treated by specialist vet Dr. Jayaprakash, who has experience of working with injured turtles. Fondly called ‘Saki’, the turtle was intensively cared for throughout the period of healing of the right shoulder and the deep cut across the neck.

While under medical care, the turtle is placed in seawater rehabilitation tanks, that are cleaned daily and replenished with seawater. A sufficient and required diet consisting of fish, squids, shrimp, and crabs was also provided during the period.

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Dr Jayaprakash, Director of Clinics (retd), TANUVAS said that the challenging task is giving turtles their daily medication and caring for them for a long time, as they are reptiles. Expressing happiness that Saki healed well, he reemphasized the arduous nature of the process of providing care for reptiles.

Once certified fit to return to her original home, Saki was released on Wednesday afternoon after being taken 3 km into the sea (South of Chennai), via boat. In the presence of students, volunteers, and Sea Turtle Protection Force members, Saki was released near a rock formation, where a wide variety of prey is available, thus making it easy for the turtle to feed and re-adjust to the open ocean once again.

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Dr. Supraja Dharini, Chairperson, TREE Foundation, said, “Seeing the turtle return to the ocean and knowing the challenges she will face can be a very bittersweet feeling.” Deep down, we know that, despite the challenges she may face, her life belongs in the ocean, so that is where she should rightfully be.

According to experts, Saki may choose to return to shore once again, but only when it is ready to mate (around 15-16 years later).

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