After a year of medical operations and rehab, animal doctors released a green sea turtle who had been badly injured back into the wild on Wednesday. They hope that the 177-pound turtle, named Andre, will now find a mate and help his endangered species survive.
"He has overcome obstacles, predators, food scarcities, cold winters—any number of things that may have ended his life—and he has survived," said Dr. Nancy Mettee. She is a veterinarian at Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach, Florida, who helped take care of Andre. "He's really a miracle turtle."
Struggling to Survive
In June 2010, beachgoers found Andre split open and stranded on a sandbar. He had giant holes in his shell, caused by two different boat strikes. More than three pounds of sand were inside the turtle, along with a few crabs. He had a serious infection and a damaged lung. Andre was pulled to shore on a boogie board and his yearlong fight to survive began.
In order to close the large holes in his shell, orthodontist Dr. Alberto Vargas used braces similar to those used on humans. Then, doctors had to help Andre regrow some of his tissue to fill in the holes. The procedures used to heal Andre are believed to be animal firsts.
Andre's successful recovery has inspired people all over the world. Many watched his slow recovery on a 'round-the-clock webcam, and more than 200 people sent money to become the turtle's "honorary parents". Children sent him dozens of letters, affectionately addressed to "Andre the Turtle."
A large crowd cheered as Andre was driven to the beach and placed on the sand, where he slowly shuffled his way into the Atlantic Ocean. Andre is thought to be around 25 years old, leaving him plenty of time to reproduce and perhaps keep the endangered species from dying out.
While Andre's fans were happy to see the turtle healthy and back in his own environment, some of his caretakers had a hard time saying goodbye. "It's just an inspiration," said 17-year-old volunteer Kelly Griffith, wiping away tears. "Every turtle is special, but he captures hearts."