Loggerhead turtles, Bat Yam - Nir Keidar
Loggerhead turtles being released to the sea in Bat Yam last week. Photo by Nir Keidar
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A great deal of patience was required from the several dozen Bat Yam residents who gathered last week at the Sea Palace beach to accompany two loggerhead sea turtles back to their natural home in the Mediterranean sea. After all, as befits turtles, they were perhaps excited but they took their time to get there.

The treatment that the turtles had received and their return to the deep was to a large extent thanks to the great resourcefulness of residents of the city who realized they were having problems and took pains to help them. They watched excitedly as their old friends made their way back to the warm sand from the vehicle belonging to the Israel Nature and Parks Authority that had parked for their convenience on the beach.

First out onto the sand was the female turtle, Sil'it, whose is believed to be several decades old. She had been washed up onto the Bat Yam beach more than half a year ago after being injured. A member of the Sea Scouts noticed her and called the experts from the INPA's Israeli Sea Turtle Rescue Center at Mevo'ot Yam, a few kilometers north of Netanya. The rescue center took care of her for the past half year until she recovered completely, and last week she was able to crawl relatively quickly back to the sea, accompanied by a crowd of well-wishers.

Next to come out was Morris, who had been found a year earlier by the local lifeguard, Yaniv Cohen. "I was on my surfboard when I spotted him close to the beach," Cohen recounted as he watched his friend returning to the sea. Morris was badly injured when Cohen found him, and one of his front limbs had been amputated when his body was caught in a fisherman's net. He therefore had to be operated on at the Mevo'ot Yam center and underwent numerous other treatments.

Since he was missing a front leg, the male turtle had difficulty making his way back to the water, and Cohen kept on trying to help him while the experts from the INPA urged him to let the turtle go by himself. Finally, with quite a few breaks en route, Morris also managed to reach the sea as the Sea Scouts stood alongside and cheered him on his way.

The director of the rescue center, Yaniv Levy, was waiting in the water for the turtles and documented their first moments in the sea with a special camera. He said that in addition to taking care of the turtles, the center had recently completed its annual project in which the eggs of green and loggerhead turtles are collected, since they are currently in danger of extinction. Both species of turtle climb onto the sand to deposit their eggs.

The eggs are sent to special farms where they are kept until the birth and then the newborns are returned immediately to the sea. According to Levy, 168 turtle egg-layings were found this season on the Israeli coast, including 29 by green turtles, and as a result thousands of little turtles were brought back to the sea. However, he said that several dozen injured turtles were also found on the beaches, some of them with missing limbs.