Published on 10/03/17

Burton 4-H Center's resident sea turtle, Zoe, released on Tybee Island

By Sharon Dowdy, Merritt Melancon

Zoe, a loggerhead sea turtle that lived at the Burton 4-H Center on Tybee Island, Georgia, for the past five years, was released on the island Saturday, Sept. 30.

A large crowd of local residents and tourists gathered with cameras ready as Zoe was lowered into the water just south of the pier on Tybee Beach, where the sea turtle hatched.

Jillian Norrie, an environmental educator at the center who recently served as one of the sea turtle’s caretakers, lowered her into the water and she quickly swam out of sight.

“She wasn’t really a pet, but she did recognize me as the one who fed her,” Norrie said. “I do feel sad, but Zoe is going to do very well in the ocean.”

The staff at the center taught Zoe how to hunt and live on her own.

“We took care of Zoe for five years, fed her well, made sure she was living in a good environment with appropriate water quality, diet and enrichment activities,” said David Weber, Burton 4-H Center program coordinator. “It wasn’t too hard. Primarily, she just needed a little help getting stronger as a baby, but there was a lot to keep track of and monitor as she grew to make sure she was as healthy as possible.” 

Before being released, the sea turtle was outfitted with a satellite transmitter that will track her location. 

“We are hoping to be able to follow her and collect data for several months, but it is really hard to say just how long the transmitter will stay attached to her shell,” said Paul Coote, 4-H center director. “Due to the turtle’s feeding habits, the tracker may get damaged pretty quickly. We hope it will continue to transmit for several months, maybe even six months if we’re lucky.”

Since she was rescued as a stranded hatchling, Zoe served as a teaching tool at Burton 4-H center. About 9,000 students attend environmental education and 4-H summer camps at the 4-H center each year, and they meet a wide array of wildlife native to southeastern Georgia, from nonvenomous snakes to baby alligators. In all, about 40,000 students interacted with Zoe during her time at the 4-H center. 

Burton 4-H Center now has a new loggerhead sea turtle straggler, Belle, who will take Zoe’s place educating 4-H center visitors. In about five years, Belle will be also released. 

The public will soon be able to track Zoe through a link on the Burton 4-H Center website at

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Merritt Melancon is a public relations manager with UGA's Terry College of Business and previously served as a public relations coordinator for the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences and UGA Extension.

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