Page last updated at 05:20 GMT, Monday, 30 June 2008 06:20 UK

Turtle diary: Return to the wild

Anna-Marie Lever follows the release of two turtles from Newquay to the Canary Islands. These lucky loggerheads were the only two survivors of 23 that have been washed up on UK and Ireland coasts this year.

DAY 4: FREEDOM

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Returning home. Dink and James swim off into the ocean

"Everyone is going to be very emotional today," Matt says as Dink and James are once again crated for the quick drive to the beach.

Children gather around the boxes on the black sand. Some collect seawater in their play buckets and pour it over the turtles' backs to cool them down in the midday sun.

Tiny Dink in vast ocean (BBC)
Freedom: Tiny Dink swims off into the ocean

It is Dink's turn first. He crawls down a few metres of beach into the gently breaking waves - and is off. He is going so fast he gently bumps into a few rocks underwater. Matt snorkels next to him until Dink disappears into the blue.

James is next. As Matt lifts up the 15kg turtle and carries him to the water, James starts flapping his flippers together. The sound of clapping echoes along the beach. "I think he knows where he is. Good luck boy - hopefully we won't be seeing you again. Have many, many years of swimming in the ocean," Matt calls out.

DAY 3: FLIGHT RECOVERY

Dink in Las Palmas tank (M Slater)
Dink takes the day to rest and acclimatise to Gran Canaria
We follow the turtles' example and chill out and relax.

It is St John's Day in Las Palmas, a national holiday which commemorates the foundation of the city.

As everything is closed, we drive to the south of the island to explore the exotic beaches, made from black sand of volcanic rocks, and enjoy a seafood paella.

DAY 2: GATWICK TO LAS PALMAS

0330 : The sun is rising as we arrive at the Animal Care Centre, Gatwick. Dink is still full of energy.

Loading the turtles onto the plane (BBC)
James goes into the hold. Have a safe flight

"It's been quite noisy in the back; Dink has been wriggling around a lot - like driving with children, but at least they are not screaming!" Matt remarks. With the help of Thomas Cook check-in and security, things run smoothly. Wearing fluorescent jackets, we are ushered airside to see Dink and James being loaded into a temperature-controlled and pressurised hold. Matt looks a little anxious: "I hope they will be OK, they are very special to us. It's pretty deafening out here but soon they will be tucked up nice and warm."

0810: "I would like to welcome aboard some very special guests called Dink and James," the pilot's message plays over the tannoy before take-off. After being awake for around 23 hours, we all try to get some sleep on the three-and-a-half-hour flight.

Basking in the 26C (79F) temperatures, we watch the turtle crates trundle down a conveyer belt from the plane's hold at Las Palmas. In a white van, with the turtles in the back, we are whizzed out of the airport, bypassing the terminal building. After much gesticulating and "spanlish", we zoom back into the airport to find our luggage. Recepción a Las Palmas!

1400: A big sign of relief. Dink and James are looking happy and healthy. At the Wildlife Recovery Centre of Tafira, the government vet Pascual Calabuig checks them over. Their caramel and chocolate shells glisten in the sun as they explore their new tanks. Dink and James will rest here for a day before their release.

DAY 1: NEWQUAY TO GATWICK

1300: Gusty winds greet us when we arrive at Blackrock beach in Bude, Cornwall.

The team on Bude beach (BBC)
The team battling the wind on Bude beach

Looking down at the lines of sharp black rocks and tumbling surf, it is amazing that James, the older of the two loggerheads, was found alive. He was stranded here on 26 January in very poor condition; with holes in his shell and oil over his back. Dink, the other loggerhead, who has also been nursed back to health by Blue Reef Aquarium, Newquay, stranded just one week later further up the coast, at Woolacombe. Richard, BBC Breakfast's reporter, and cameraman Matt, have to shout at each other to be heard above the howling wind.

1700: We arrive at Blue Reef Aquarium to an air of anticipation and excitement. Matt Slater, Blue Reef's curator, introduces us to Dink and James.

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Curator Matt Slater packs James and Dink up for their journey back to the wild.

At around five years old, Dink is a curious toddler, full of energy as he zooms around the tank. James, at approximately 15, is a sleepy teenager. He lodges himself between the rocks at the bottom of his ocean tank and naps between gulps of air.

Catching James (BBC)
Trying to catch James and not be stung by a pesky ray

Time comes to secure the turtles into their specially designed crates. Dink is easily caught, but James is a little tricky. Matt entices him to the surface with his favourite food - squid. Unfortunately this also attracts the attention of a stingray which flaps around his feet. Eventually, Dink and James are loaded into the car - their journey to warmer waters has begun.


SEE ALSO
Turtles return home after UK stay
30 Jun 08 |  Science/Nature
Scientists probe dead turtle mystery
03 Jun 08 |  Science/Nature
Aquarium cares for second turtle
05 Feb 08 |  Cornwall
Rare turtle is rescued from beach
01 Feb 08 |  Cornwall

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