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Sandy, a hawksbill turtle that survived a brutal dog attack on St Croix more than a year ago, has been released back into the wild. The sea turtle made a full recovery at Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Fla., and was returned home on an American Airlines flight free of charge from Miami. She was then transported to Sandy Point Wildlife Refuge. Once at the refuge, she was carried to the water’s edge, where she swam out to sea.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees found the injured sea turtle during a routine patrol of the wildlife refuge in October of last year. She had sustained serious injuries to her front two flippers and to one of her rear flippers. Dr. Michelle Mehalick performed emergency surgery with the help of Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ Division of Fish and Wildlife personnel. Then, Sandy was airlifted from St. Croix on Nov. 11, 2008, to the Turtle Hospital n Florida for further treatment. Founded in 1986, the facility is a nonprofit organization that uses state-of-the art equipment and a full-time staff to care for injured sea turtles. More than 750 sea turtles have been treated and released from the hospital.

More amazing to her release is that she now swims with 3 flippers. The veterinary staff at the hospital decided to amputate her front right flipper, because of the severity of the injuries.

To ready Sandy for the flight back to St Croix, she was smeared with petroleum jelly and given artificial tears to keep her skin and eyes from drying out, before being placed in a large wooden crate. The inside of the crate was equipped with several holes for breathing, along with padding and plastic. Sandy was also wrapped in a wet towel to keep her moist and comfortable. On arrival, the towel was still cool and wet. When she was released into the sea, she blew the air out of her lungs, dove right under and took off.

Sandy has been tagged, and biologists and volunteers hope to find her next year on the beach laying eggs. Claudia Lombard, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife at Sandy Point Wildlife Refuge, said the release was smooth and successful. “The minute we took the top of the box off, the turtle was strong and alert,” Lombard said. “It was great to see so many come out to support the sea turtle conservation, from school kids, to the media and other natural resource conservationists on St. Croix.”

To donate to the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, FL, visit their web site.

In the VI, To report sea turtle or other wildlife violations call U.S. Fish and Wildlife at 340-773-4554, DPNR at 773-1082 or VIPD at 911. To report stranded, injured, trapped, disoriented or dead sea turtles call STAR (Sea Turtle Assistance and Rescue) at 340-690-0474.

(resource: Trading Markets)