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Thousands of ‘cold-stunned’ sea turtles rescued off Texas coast amid deadly deep freeze

5 min read

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Thousands of ‘cold-stunned’ sea turtles rescued off Texas coast amid deadly deep freeze
Source: Sea Turtle Inc

Nearly 5,000 stunned turtles washed ashore in Texas during the unprecedented cold snap that has caused fatalities, power outages and water shortages.

Thousands of ‘cold-stunned’ sea turtles rescued off Texas coast

Thousands of sea turtles unused to the plunge in temperatures have been washing up on the beaches of South Padre Island, off the southern coast of Texas. Volunteers have brought some 4,700 of them to a convention centre, where they are being kept in tubs and enclosures before they can be released when the water is warmer. — Reuters

People placed rescued turtles stunned by cold weather in an evacuation centre in South Padre Island, Texas. Source: Facebook/SeaTurtleConservation

If reptiles are not removed from the icy water when stunned they will drown

Thousands of sea turtles unused to the plunge in temperatures have been washing up on the beaches of South Padre Island, off the southern coast of Texas. Volunteers have brought some 4,700 of them to a convention centre, where they are being kept in tubs and enclosures before they can be released when the water is warmer.

“It’s an unprecedented event,” said Wendy Knight, executive director of research and conservation centre Sea Turtle Inc, which has been helming the effort. Knight said normally only 100-500 turtles wash up on the beaches in south Texas each winter.

Millions of Texans have been left without heat due to energy blackouts in the state triggered by a cold spell in which both air and water temperatures have dropped well below typical levels.

Video shot by Ed Caum, executive director of the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, shows volunteers carefully placing the animals on a trolley, and then the convention centre floor covered in turtles of all shapes and sizes.

Caum refers to the turtles as being “cold-stunned” – a condition where cold-blooded animals suddenly exhibit hypothermic reactions such as lethargy and an inability to move when the temperature in the environment around them drops.

“We’ve brought them to the convention centre to get their core temperatures back up,” said Caum, narrating one of the videos.

In the latest video posted on Facebook on Wednesday, Caum related how the centre’s power and water supplies were restored overnight.

“We’ve expanded down both wings. The heat is coming back up in the corridor,” Caum says as the video shows a passageway filled with turtles lying end-to-end on blue canvas.

“We’ve collected a lot, now, we’ll try to save them,” Caum said.

Source: Reuters 

People bring rescued turtles stunned by the cold to an evacuation centre on South Padre Island, Texas. Source: Facebook/SeaTurtleConservation
“My mom is retired, & she spends her winters volunteering at a sea turtle rescue center in south Texas. The cold snap is stunning the local turtles & they’re doing a lot of rescues. She sent me this photo today of the back of her Subaru. It’s *literally* turtles all the way down.”
Lara tweeted — “My mom is retired, & she spends her winters volunteering at a sea turtle rescue center in south Texas. The cold snap is stunning the local turtles & they’re doing a lot of rescues. She sent me this photo today of the back of her Subaru. It’s *literally* turtles all the way down.” Source: Twitter/@lara_hand
The image shows some of the 141 sea turtles rescued from the frigid waters of the Brownsville Ship Channel and surrounding bays, abroad the PV Murchison, in Texas, Feb. 17, 2021.
A handout photo made available by the Texas Game Wardens of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The image shows some of the 141 sea turtles rescued from the frigid waters of the Brownsville Ship Channel and surrounding bays, abroad the PV Murchison, in Texas, Feb. 17, 2021. Source: Texas Game Warden via Shutterstock/abcNEWS
Cold-stunned sea turtles are rescued on a Game Warden vessel in Texas during the plunging temperatures due to the winter storm, Feb. 17, 2021 Source: Texas Game Warden via Shutterstock/abcNEWS

Hundreds more helpless cold-stunned sea turtles rescued by Navy pilots and pickup trucks

Will Bellamy, an Army and Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Haiti, saw some turtles Tuesday with his son Jerome. But he needed help. He alerted Capt. Christopher Jason, the commander of Naval Air Station Corpus Christi in southeastern Texas, and his wife, Cheryl Jason.

Word spread in the military community, but the movement began with Bellamy flagging down motorists to help, he said. From there, the efforts mushroomed to a full-blown operation. Bellamy said one active duty Navy pilot trainee on scene called in other trainees with pickup trucks to haul the stunned turtles to heated storage facilities at the air station.

More than 1,100 turtles have since been plucked from Laguna Madre by a ragtag group of about 50 Navy pilots and flight students, military spouses, family members and military retirees.

Source: WashingtonPost

Green sea turtles, listed as a threatened species, feast on grasses found in the waters of Laguna Madre, but in winter weather, the chilling shallow water zaps strength from the coldblooded reptiles. They become immobile and unable to power their fins to warmer, deeper waters, putting them at risk of dying of predation or exposure, according to the National Park Service. Some wash ashore like driftwood.
Will Bellamy with his son Jerome rescued sea turtles in Texas. Green sea turtles, listed as a threatened species, feast on grasses found in the waters of Laguna Madre, but in winter weather, the chilling shallow water zaps strength from the coldblooded reptiles. They become immobile and unable to power their fins to warmer, deeper waters, putting them at risk of dying of predation or exposure, according to the National Park Service. Some wash ashore like driftwood. Source: Will Bellamy/WashingtonPost
Navy Command Master Chief Eric Kinnaman carries a turtle off the Texas coast. Source: Navy Capt. Christopher Jason/WashingtonPost
Sea turtles recovering in a facility on Navy Air Base Corpus Christi. Source: Cheryl Jason/WashingtonPost
A rescued turtle at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. Source: Navy Capt. Christopher Jason/WashingtonPost

The good news is that volunteers are gearing up to release the nearly 5,000 cold-stunned sea turtles

Sea Turtle Inc., the conservation group responsible for rescuing sea turtles along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, puts a plan in place every fall for the possibility of cold-stun events, however it was not expecting such dire conditions.

A normal cold-stunning event will contain 100 to 200 turtles, perhaps 500 in a larger event. Once the number hit 525, the organisation’s facility was filled, and the remaining turtles had to be transferred to the South Padre Island Convention Centre. Neither facility had power at first, but the conditions were still much better than had the turtles remained outdoors. 

As the turtles are introduced to warmer temperatures, they will begin to wake up and behave normally and the organisation will then prepare to release them back into the Gulf of Mexico. Power at the convention center was restored Wednesday, while Sea Turtle Inc.’s facility got its power back on Thursday.

Update: 21 February via Instagram:"After an exhaustive 24-hour effort that went through the night and has just ended this morning, Sea Turtle Inc. was successfully able to release more than 2,200 previously cold-stunned turtles into the open ocean of the Gulf of Mexico. We still have lots of work to do but we are rejuvenated with passion and having seen our first released turtles swim away. Thank you for your patience while we worked tirelessly overnight to get this work done." — Sea Turtle Inc.

Source: abcNEWS

Sea turtles saved from US winter storm About 4,700 sea turtles off the Texas coast were rescued and taken indoors to warm up after the extreme cold immobilised them. Source: Facebook/NowThis
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