After successful recovery, green sea turtle set free

Sahagun is a Times staff writer.

A rehabilitated green sea turtle the size of a manhole cover was set free in the San Gabriel River on Thursday after two months of intensive veterinary care at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.

Aquarium veterinarian Lance Adams grabbed the two ends of the 44-pound reptile’s mossy carapace and let it go in the murky water under the East Second Street bridge south of the 405 Freeway, silently urging it on.

The turtle’s flippers went into action and it disappeared into the green depths near the warm outflow of a Long Beach power plant where federal biologists recently discovered a resident colony of green sea turtles, about a mile upstream in a heavily industrialized stretch of the river.


“It didn’t stop to say goodbye,” Adams said with a smile.

The creature’s release was celebrated with applause from about two dozen witnesses. Among them were biologists and staffers from a local National Marine Fisheries Service headquarters and heavy-equipment operator Dana Williams, 57, who happened to have been bicycling in the area when he caught sight of the commotion.

“This is exquisite,” he said. “But they ought to put up a sign: No speed boats. Turtle sanctuary.”

Federal biologists said the turtle’s future was uncertain, given that it will have to share the 100-yard-wide channel with fishing enthusiasts, power boats, heavy industry and tons of garbage.

The life and times of the reptile formally designated as “green sea turtle 0208" embodies the complex issues facing wildlife managers trying to sustain precarious populations of sensitive species in heavily urbanized areas of Southern California.

The turtle had been trapped for weeks in an intake channel near the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s Haynes Generating Station in Long Beach, where fishermen had tried to snag it with hooks and stab it with makeshift spears.

On Sept. 2, a team of biologists dispatched by the DWP rescued the turtle and transported it to the aquarium for treatment of broken bones, numerous puncture wounds, cuts and a fishing hook buried in a fore flipper.

Fully recovered and 6 pounds heavier than when it checked into the veterinary ward, the turtle was cleared for a return to the wild.

A few minutes after its release, the turtle came up for a gulp of air about 30 yards away amid floating debris: a plastic water bottle, sticks and paper.

Seconds later, it submerged into the green, slow-moving water.