Endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle's long journey home
A critically endangered turtle that was nursed back to health for more than two years has begun its journey back home.
Koha the turtle boarded Niwa's vessel Tangaroa on Thursday morning bound for the Kermadecs.
The Hawksbill Sea Turtle was nursed back to health by Kelly Tarlton's Sea Life Aquarium in Auckland after being found near Dargaville in September, 2014.
"Koha was found in a severely emaciated and lethargic state," Kelly Tarlton's turtle expert Harry Josephson-Rutter said.
The turtle was flown to Auckland and was treated at the aquarium before being tube fed a special diet alongside antibiotics, then slowly being reintroduced to solid food.
Koha was moved to a larger tank to gain strength and fitness prior to release.
Josephson-Rutter said it was likely Koha was swimming in New Zealand waters as part of its early years, where turtles typically travel the world's oceans via major ocean currents.
"The Hawksbill Sea Turtle is listed as critically endangered. Having already been hunted to near extinction throughout history for its attractive shell, sea turtles are now under threat from ocean pollution and habitat destruction."
During a ceremony at Auckland's Wynyard Wharf on Thursday, led by Ngāti Whatua and Ngāti Kuri leaders, Koha was blessed before being carried onto Tangaroa, the flagship research vessel.
Scientists aboard Tangaroa are undertaking a 20-day scientific expedition in the Kermadec region.
Koha is expected to be released on Saturday morning near Raoul Island, providing the weather is calm.
Voyage leader and NIWA principal scientist Dr Malcolm Clark said the team were honoured to have Koha aboard for the first part of the trip.
"It is a rare privilege to be able to return a critically endangered creature to its natural habitat. We are very much looking forward to releasing it, knowing we have played a small part in helping the conservation of this magnificent species."