Sea turtles release also honors Paulk's memory

·2 min read

Sep. 16—Staff at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island bid a fond farewell Thursday to two patients recently nursed back to health.

The center held a sea turtle release on the beach Thursday morning for loggerhead Tallulah Fish and green turtle Johnny Paulk. Both turtles' names were chosen in honor of the island's celebration of 75 years as a state park.

Tallulah Fish was the first museum coordinator for the island's state park. Paulk was a golf legend with close ties to Jekyll who passed away in 2020. His memory continues to be honored on the island in many ways, including through the annual Paulk Cup Classic golf tournament.

Paulk's family traveled to the island for the release, after following the health of the turtle for months through the center's Adopt a Sea Turtle program through which anyone can symbolically adopt a patient to stay in the know about their recovery.

Tallulah Fish was set down on the sand just near the water line and made a quick departure into the ocean. The turtle named Johnny Paulk was carried out into the waves by a sea turtle center staff member and released.

The turtle arrived at the center on July 1 after being found in a freshwater pond. It received antibiotics and vitamins to address bacteria found in its blood stream and other issues.

"It took a few months to get him back to where he was normal and he was ready," said Terry Norton, veterinarian at the Sea Turtle Center, the state's only sea turtle education and rehabilitation facility.

Tallulah Fish was debilitated and anemic when it arrived at the center, which is a common concern for loggerheads that center staff treat, Norton said.

The release takes place at nearly the end of sea turtle nesting season in Georgia. So far this year, 4,087 nests have been reported on Georgia's beaches, including 243 on Jekyll, 12 on St. Simons and 144 on Sea Island.

Ginny Paulk, Johnny's wife, stood with her family on the Jekyll beach to watch the turtles' journey back into the ocean. She said they were delighted to learn that a turtle was named in her husband's honor and excited to "adopt" the turtle.

"They've been keeping up with us on how she's doing," she said.

She's happy to see her husband's memory continue to be honored on Jekyll.

"His name has been kept alive even, though Mr. Johnny has been gone for a couple of years," she said. "But the residents have been so kind that they don't want to forget him."

The Paulk Cup Classic will return Oct. 26-28 at the Jekyll Island Golf Club. Proceeds raised by the event support the Jekyll Island Foundation and in turn the Georgia Sea Turtle Center and other work on Jekyll.