Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

33 endangered, threatened sea turtles released into Gulf waters

By the CNN Wire Staff
Kemp's ridley turtles were among those released into the wild off Florida in August.
Kemp's ridley turtles were among those released into the wild off Florida in August.
  • The turtles were among 500 rescued after the mammoth months-long oil spill
  • They are now healthy, and the habitat is recovering, scientist say
  • Experts say the release is further evidence that the Gulf waters are recovering

(CNN) -- Months after rescuers found them struggling and covered in oil, 33 endangered and threatened young sea turtles are finally going home to the Gulf of Mexico.

Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and the Audubon Nature Institute freed the turtles Thursday in waters about 40 miles southwest of Grand Isle, Louisiana.

This marked the latest mass release of turtles since about 500 were rescued in the weeks and months after the massive months-long oil spill.

"We were able to release these turtles because they're now healthy, and we're seeing recovery in the surface habitats of the Gulf of Mexico," NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said in a news release.

The spill began after an April 20 explosion on the offshore drilling platform Deepwater Horizon that killed 11 men. Two days later, the platform sank and oil started gushing into the Gulf. In early August, owner BP used cement and mud to plug the damaged Gulf of Mexico well.

Officials formally declared an end to the oil spill disaster on September 19, though considerable efforts remained to clean up area waters and revive wildlife affected by the spill.

Earlier this month, NOAA reopened federal waters off the Louisiana coast to fishing. Thursday's release marked another milestone in the area's recovery, according to those involved.

"Returning this group of sea turtles to their home waters is ... a sign that Louisiana is on the path towards recovery," said Randy Pausina, an assistant secretary for Louisiana's office of fisheries.

The 33 turtles had been rescued more than three months ago by federal officials and state wildlife authorities from Louisiana, Florida and Georgia, as well as the Riverhead Foundation and the In-Water Research Group. They were rehabilitated at the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans.

They included green, Kemp's ridley and hawksbill sea turtles, which are classified as endangered species. There also were loggerheads, which are a threatened species.

With 270 turtles having been cleaned, nursed back to health and released, there are more than 200 still in rehabilitation sites around the area.

Scientists did extensive aerial and shipboard tests earlier this week on the waters near the release point, making sure the sargassum algae was clean. Young turtles thrive in such areas, which provide protection from predators and ample food, including small crabs, snails and other creatures.

"Six months ago, it was nearly impossible to imagine this day would ever come," said Ron Forman, the Audubon Nature Institute's CEO and president.

Oil disaster: Tracking the numbers
Part of complete coverage on
Impact Your World: How to help
A number of organizations are recruiting volunteers to help clean up coastal areas
Depths of the disaster
Get the numbers, see the images and learn how the worst U.S. oil spill has changed lives, ruined economies and more.
iReport: Gulf journals
These stories help us look into the lives of the hardworking people of the Gulf as they watch this disaster take its toll.
Send your photos, videos
Is your area being affected by the spill? Help CNN track the oil slick and its effects on Gulf Coast communities and wildlife
Map: What's been hit
Interactive map locates oil sightings and stories
Daily developments
How big is the slick? What's being affected? What's being done?
Track the major developments of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico
Berms, booms, blowouts: Glossary
Breaking down the jargon of the disaster