QUITO, Feb. 28 (Xinhua) -- A group of 155 juvenile giant turtles, native to the Galapagos Islands, were released after being held in captivity as part of a breeding program, the Environment Ministry of Ecuador said Thursday.
Before being released Oon Santa Fe Island which lies in the center of the Galapagos archipelago, the turtles of the "Chelonoidis hoodensis" species underwent a rigorous quarantine process, the ministry said in a statement.
The release is as part of an ecological restoration of the island. The restoration effort was made through the repopulation with turtles of a species similar to the original, which has been extinct for more than 150 years.
The initiative is being undertaken by the Galapagos National Park, which administers the archipelago located some 970 km off the coast of Ecuador, and the Galapagos Conservancy.
Jorge Carrion, director of the Galapagos National Park, said all the released turtles are microchipped that makes future monitoring easier.
"The turtle is the archipelago's largest herbivore, and its release on Santa Fe has a goal of fulfilling its role as an ecosystem engineer, and contribute to the spread of the species such as the Opuntia cactus," he said.
The recovery plan includes the annual release of young turtles on the island till 2026.
"The first turtles released in 2015 are currently between 10 and 12 years old, so they are expected to start reproduce in the next five to seven years," said Washington Tapia, director of the ecological restoration initiative.
The newly released turtles join the 394 released in previous years.
The Galapagos archipelago was declared a World Heritage Site in 1978 by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Located at the confluence of three ocean currents, the archipelago is a "melting pot" of diverse species, which inspired Charles Darwin's theory of evolution following his visit in 1835.