LIDO KEY - A loggerhead sea turtle gets released back into the Gulf Friday morning after a long journey up Florida's West Coast.
That made it an early morning for staff and volunteers at Mote Marine Laboratory, preparing one 200 pound sea turtle for it's journey back home.
"We got the clearance from our vet last week and then we get the clearance from Fish and Wildlife Commission and then we can schedule the release," said Mote employee Jenna Rouse.
Big Bel, as they call her, was found stranded off Fort Myers in bad health back in August. After being treated for a month at the C.R.O.W. Wildlife Rehabilitation Facility on Sanibel, she was transported up to Mote's Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital.
"She kind of stalled in her rehab for a little bit so we had a larger tank to offer so we brought her up here to Mote to finish her rehab," said Lynne Byrd, Mote's Medical Care Coordinator.
So Friday morning Byrd, Rouse, and other staff and volunteers helped Big Bel get back to Gulf Waters to taste freedom again.
"We try to keep ourselves separate from them in the rehab process so they don't associate people with food. So I imagine it's a little stressful but to get back in her natural environment and get away from us is probably, we're happy she's happy, it's back to how it should be," Byrd said.
As the loggerhead turtle slid back into the Gulf to take on the next part of her journey, the crowd couldn't help but rejoice in the survival of yet another one of our neighbors in the sea.
"To see the process of it to go, come in sick, would have died without intervention and get them back out there healthy and to be part of the cycle of life again, it's amazing," Byrd said.
Mote's Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Hospital has been treating sick turtles since 1995, and to continue to do so relies on donations from the community.
If you're interested in donating, you can find more information here.