Turtle Recovery and Release

A newly dehooked and/or disentangled turtle may be stressed or exhausted by its ordeal. If possible, allow it to rest (for example, on a tire) for a few hours before releasing it. Keep the animal moist (cover the body—but not nose and mouth—with a wet towel, or spray it periodically with water) and at a temperature above 15°C (60°F). When you are ready to return the turtle to sea, take the following steps:

  1. Check that there is no fishing gear in the water
  2. Bring the vessel to a stop
  3. Put the engine in neutral to disengage the propeller
  4. Ease the turtle into the water head first while holding it by the sides of its shell. If your vessel has a side door, releasing the turtle from the open door is a good option

Turtle release in Alcantara, Cebu, Philippines (Photo: Steve De Neef)


Do not drop or throw the turtle from a great height. Make sure the turtle is a safe distance from the boat before you reengage the propeller.

If the turtle appears unconscious (possibly due to entanglement underwater), place the turtle on a tilted surface so that its hindquarters are approximately 15 cm (6 in) higher than its head. This allows water to drain out of its lungs. Again, keep the animal moist (with a damp towel over its shell) and at a temperature above 15° C (60° F). Check the turtle’s reflexes by touching its tail or eyelid every three hours. An unconscious, but live, turtle may not react. If, after 24 hours, the turtle still shows no reflex reaction, it is likely dead. However if it does recover, release it gently into the water.


As a skipper, you are already familiar with handling tools and animals. But instead of landing fish, you can use this knowledge to ensure the survival of these vulnerable sea turtles.