A tiny turtle that was stranded on a Scottish beach has made a remarkable recovery and journey back to her natural habitat.
How Iona was found and rescued
Iona, a loggerhead turtle, was found washed up on a beach in Scotland last year over a thousand miles from her natural habitat. She was not expected to “make the night” after she was found in 10C water off the Scottish island of Iona – after which she was named – in January 2022.
The animal was found cold-stunned and dehydrated and became the smallest live stranded loggerhead turtle recorded in the UK. She was spotted by a passer-by before the team at the British Divers Marine Life Rescue contacted Sea Life in Loch Lomond to bring her in for rehabilitation.
How Iona recovered and grew
Iona was relocated to Sea Life in Scarborough in May last year for further care before making her long journey from Scarborough to the Azores in Portugal this month – a voyage of nearly 1,700 miles.
Todd German, animal care curator at Sea Life Scarborough, said she was “lucky” to have been discovered. He said that her release back into the wild was “surreal” but hopes Sea Life can continue giving turtles a “chance of survival”.
Robin Hunter, display supervisor at Sea Life Loch Lomond and part of Iona’s care team, said it was his first time rehabilitating a turtle. He said that Iona was not in good condition when she was first discovered but said her recovery has been “remarkable”.
He said it was “a very slow process” restoring Iona to a healthy weight. She gradually increased to 21kg which is 10 times the weight when she was found.
How Iona was tagged and released
The loggerhead turtle was fitted with a satellite tag to allow researchers to monitor her behaviour in the wild. She was transported by plane from Manchester to Lisbon and then by boat to the Azores, where she was released on October 4.
Andrea Herguedes, a research assistant at the Institute for Research in Marine Sciences and Costa project told PA: “We are wondering if she will behave the same as a wild turtle after one year of rehab.”
There is a chance the loggerhead turtle could migrate as far as North America because “when loggerheads reach sexual maturity they move to nesting beaches”, Mafalda Sousa, another research assistant added.
Ms Herguedes said she is confident that Iona will thrive again in the wild, describing her species as “super resilient”.
How Iona’s story inspires conservation efforts
Sea Life partnered with Flying Sharks at the Porto Pim aquarium in Portugal, a company promoting sustainable use of the ocean, enabling Iona to relocate to warmer climates.
Sea Life also launched a campaign called #TurtleRescueMission to raise awareness and funds for turtle conservation. The campaign aims to educate people about the threats that sea turtles face, such as climate change, plastic pollution, fishing nets and boat strikes.
Sea Life also encourages people to adopt a turtle or donate to their conservation partners, such as Project Biodiversity and Turtle Foundation.
Sea Life hopes that Iona’s story will inspire people to take action and protect these amazing creatures for future generations.