PANAMA CITY BEACH — Another marine animal was recently successfully rehabilitated and released by a local nonprofit organization.
More than 100 people gathered Tuesday morning along the coast near the Carousel Supermarket in Panama City Beach to watch members of Gulf World Marine Institute release a more than 200-pound loggerhead sea turtle back into the Gulf of Mexico.
Nicknamed Leo, the turtle was rehabilitated and tagged by the institute after it was found in October "floating and lethargic near the shore" of beach access 24 in Panama City Beach, a press release from the organization states.
"To have this large crowd come out is awesome," said Secret Holmes-Douglass, director of the group, who guessed the turtle was more than 50 years old. "We're happy to have the support, do public releases and for people to be able to enjoy what we do.
"We do this job and we want to help out all the endangered species, but we also want to educate the public and this is a great opportunity to do that," Holmes-Douglass added.
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This was exactly why Rachael Simunovich, a Walton County resident, attended the release with her husband and their three children.
As she stood Tuesday along the sand, with a cool sea breeze in the air, Simunovich said her children are home-schooled, so the event was the perfect chance for them to get out and learn about nature first-hand.
"We do little home-school field trips and I thought (this) was a good opportunity," she said. "(They) loved it ... but it was quick, so we had to push some people aside. It was my first time seeing a sea turtle. It was fun, (and it) was worth it for the kids."
The release also attracted David Hohiemer, a snowbird from Indiana, who said he thinks it is "pretty awesome" that members of the local community care so much about helping wildlife.
Like Secret Holmes-Douglass, Hohiemer also was surprised by the number who came to see Leo.
"For this city to take care of an animal ... bring it back to where it's healthy ... and then bring it down here and have this kind of commitment to get it back in the water — I think it's outstanding," he said.
According to Michelle Schisa, a veterinarian for Gulf World Marine Institute, blood work taken from the turtle shows that an infection was the reason for its unusual behavior.
Unlike many of the other sea turtles that the group often treats, Leo was not cold-stunned — a condition similar to hypothermia in humans.
Schisa noted that the animal quickly recovered once it was brought to the facility.
"When he first came in, he was lethargic or just very, very tired," she said. "An adult (loggerhead sea turtle) should not be able to be brought into shore, and the rescuers were able to easily just kind of drag him from the waves ... without much of a struggle.
"... We got him eating well pretty soon after he arrived and he seemed to rebound very quickly, which was great."
This article originally appeared on The News Herald: Panama City Beach Florida nonprofit saves 200-pound sea turtles