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Endangered turtles bred in captivity in Israel to help save species

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MIKHMORET, Israel (Reuters) – On a Mediterranean beach in Israel, a newborn turtle fumbles in the sand, making its way to the sea for the first time.

The baby, one of 60 to be released in the wild this week, is part of a unique conservation program run by the Israeli Sea Turtle Rescue Center.

Green turtles are endangered worldwide, says the World Wildlife Fund. Among other dangers, they are threatened by hunting, human encroachment on their nesting beaches and pollution of their sea-eating areas.

According to the Israeli rescue center, only about 20 female green turtles nest on Israel's Mediterranean coast during a breeding season that usually lasts from May to August.

To help the turtle population, Israeli natural authorities have declared some beach nature reserves and, with the rescue center, have relocated threatened turtle nests to safe hatcheries since the 1980s.

In 2002, the rescue center went a step further and began recruiting turtles for a special breeding facility that would one day help populate the sea with their young in one of the world's only conservation programs.

The squad began to reach sexual maturity a few years ago and this year has managed to reproduce, said the center's manager, Yaniv Levi. About 200 turtle chicks are expected to hatch by the end of the breeding season.

Slideshow (20 Images)

"We are just in the beginning, it is the first year and we hope that in the coming years we can generate 1,000 pups a year," said Levi.

Roderic Mast, president of the Oceanic Society and co-chair of the IUCN-SSC Sea Turtle Expert Group, said releasing pups into the sea immediately is critical to their chances of survival.

"In terms of conservation, nothing is more important than protecting turtles and their natural habitat and behavior," Mast said in an email interview.

Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell; Edition by Gareth Jones

Our standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles. . (tagsToTranslate) USA (t) ISRAEL (t) ANIMALS (t) TURTLES (t) Nature / Wildlife (t) General News (t) Israel (t) Pollution (t) Middle East (t) Life / Lifestyle ( t) Science (t) Environment

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