The Israeli Sea Turtle Rescue Center released 60 baby turtles into the Mediterranean Sea in Israel this week as part of a conservation program aimed at helping the population of green turtles, which are endangered worldwide.

Green turtles are threatened by hunting, intrusion by humans on the beaches where they nest and pollution of their feeding grounds offshore, among other things. Only about 20 female green turtles nest along the Israeli Mediterranean coast during a breeding season that typically lasts from May until August, according to the rescue center.

In 2002, the rescue center began a unique conservation program by recruiting turtles for breeding to help populate the sea with their offspring, according to Reuters.

The group of turtles began to reach sexual maturity a few years ago, and this year began breeding, with about 200 babies expected to hatch by the end of the season.

Roderic Mast, president of the Oceanic Society and co-chair of the IUCN-SSC Marine Turtle Specialist Group, said it was critical to their chances of survival to release the hatchlings into the sea immediately.

“In terms of conservation, nothing is more important than protection of turtles, and their habitats and behaviors in the wild,” said Mast.

The center’s manager, Yaniv Levi noted that “we’re only at the beginning. It’s the first year, and we expect that in the coming years we will be able to spawn 1,000 hatchlings a year.”

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