TOPSAIL BEACH — People at Topsail Beach braved wind and rain Wednesday morning to enjoy a very special farewell.
Three endangered sea turtles, in captivity for more than a year, are swimming again in the open sea.
It took some hard work from their human friends to make it all happen.
For the past year, these three turtles have lived under the watchful eye of volunteers.
They are the second wave of sea turtles, stranded in North Carolina, that are being returned to the ocean by the Sea Turtle Hospital at Topsail Beach. A crowd of more than 1,000 people celebrated their departure.
"The average person doesn't get to see (something like this) in their lifetime and I wouldn't miss it for anything, rain or no rain," one observer said.
They're making this trip because of volunteers who have nursed the animals back to health. Each of the endangered turtles was accidentally caught and injured more than a year ago.
As it happens, this is the most dangerous time of year for sea turtles. Since 1980, more than 700 North Carolina turtles have been stranded or accidentally caught during June.
Even after all the time indoors, volunteers had to be sure the turtles were ready to be released. That included blood tests as late as this morning to be sure that the turtles were healthy enough to handle the open sea.
It was a bright moment for volunteers who have sacrificed their own time for a day like this.
Man can measure the quality of the oceans by what's happening to the sea turtles. They've been here for millions of years and now they're in trouble.
The dedicated volunteers admit they can't save every endangered animal, but for these few turtles, volunteers say the ongoing sacrifice is paying off.