A badly injured sea turtle that underwent a year of rehabilitation and innovative surgeries was released Wednesday by caretakers hoping he finds a mate and helps his endangered species prosper.
Andre, an the 177-pound green sea turtle, crawled into the water and swam out of sight before a crowd of hundreds of raucous supporters. He was near death when he was found split open and stranded last year.
"He has overcome obstacles, predators, food scarcities, cold winters - any number of things that may have ended his life - and he has survived," said Dr. Nancy Mettee, a veterinarian at Loggerhead Marinelife Center who cared for Andre. "He's really a miracle turtle."
Orthodontist Alberto Vargas called Andre, a 171-pound sea turtle that he fitted with a set of braces, a very "strange patient."
"I'm not aware of this ever being done on a turtle before. We changed the shape of his shell, just like we change the shape of a patient's jaw," said Vargas, who performed the work for free.
Andre was found in June 2010 stranded on a sandbar about a mile-and-a-half south of the Juno Beach Pier. Swimmers floated the endangered green sea turtle to shore on a boogie board, and soon after they called the Loggerhead Marinelife Center for help.
After 13 months of treatment, the skin underneath the foam of Andre's mouth, once fully exposing organs, is now hard enough to survive in the depths of the Atlantic.
Green turtles grow up to about 400 pounds and live 80 years, and have persisted since prehistoric times, but are endangered today.