In August of last year, a tiny loggerhead sea turtle was born on Ossabaw Island. Unlike his brothers and sisters, he wasn’t able make his way to the ocean. Fortunately for this one baby loggerhead, he was rescued by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Having determined the young turtle would not survive on his own, Mark Dodd of DNR contacted the University of Georgia (UGA) Marine Extension Service Aquarium on Skidaway Island.
Since his arrival last year, the sea turtle, named “Ossabaw,” has thrived. (Actually, while he may be referred to as a “he,” his gender is not known.) Starting as a small hatchling that would easily fit in the palm of your hand, he has lived behind the scenes at the aquarium and has been cared for by the curator team of Devin Dumont and Karin Paquin.
“When he first arrived, he was so tiny,” said Paquin. “Now he is over three pounds and very active.”
Loggerhead sea turtles are on the threatened species list at the state and federal level. They are the most common sea turtle species to nest regularly along the Georgia coast and barrier islands. Female loggerhead turtles crawl up on beaches between May and October to lay their eggs in nest chambers dug in the sand with their back flippers and then return to the sea. The eggs incubate for approximately two months before the hatchlings emerge and head to the water where they can live as long as 70 years and grow to over 200 pounds.
“We hope that Ossabaw will grow strong, healthy and be ready for release in three to four years,” said Paquin. “If a turtle is deemed not releasable by a veterinarian, we work with larger aquariums to find a new home.”
Ossabaw’s predecessor at the aquarium, “Eddie,” was released into the wild last year. However, an earlier loggerhead, “Joey,” was transferred to the Georgia Aquarium when he grew too large for his home at the UGA Aquarium.
After living in a tank behind the scenes for his first year of life, Ossabaw will make his debut on public display in time for Skidaway Marine Science Day, which will be held on Saturday, October 20 from noon to 4 p.m.
Skidaway Marine Science Day is a campus-wide open house with activities geared for all ages from young children to adults. These will include programs, tours, displays and hands-on activities, primarily related to marine science and the coastal environment. The event is open to the public and admission is free.
Along with the aquarium, the event will be presented by the campus’s marine research and education organizations, including Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, the UGA Shellfish Research Laboratory and Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary.
The Skidaway Institute of Oceanography will offer a variety of activities for adults and children, including tours of the Research Vessel Savannah and smaller research vessels; science displays and talks on current research programs; and hands-on science activities.
The aquarium will be open to visitors with no admission fee. In addition to “Ossabaw,” the aquarium education staff will offer visitors a full afternoon of activities including science talks, a reptile show, boat tours, touch tanks and behind-the-scene tours of the aquarium.
The UGA Shellfish Laboratory will provide visitors with displays and information on marine life on the Georgia Coast. Children will be given the opportunity to help protect the marine environment by bagging oyster shells used for oyster reef restoration projects.
The staff of Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary will set up their remotely-operated-vehicle (ROV) in a swimming pool and teach visitors how to “drive” it and pick up objects from the bottom.
Skidaway Marine Science Day will also be open to non-campus scientific and environmental groups. Organizations such as The Dolphin Project and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center will be on-hand to present, information, displays and activities.
School classes or other large groups wishing to attend Skidaway Marine Science Day can be accommodated only through advance arrangements. For additional information, call (912) 598-2325.
All activities at Skidaway Marine Science Day will be free. For additional information, call (912) 598-2325, or visit http://www.skio.usg.edu.