Residents, volunteers and members of the military have helped rescue nearly 5,000 cold-stunned sea turtles in Texas after extremely frigid temperatures swept across much of the Southwest.
More than 7,000 cold-stunned turtles have been recorded across the state, making it the largest sea turtle cold-stunning event since the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network started keeping records in 1980, National Geographic reported. The agency is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“It was like an apocalypse of turtles littered on the beach,” Will Bellamy, an Army and Marine Corps veteran who helped rescue some of the distressed turtles, told The Washington Post.
Green sea turtles are listed as a threatened species. Populations in Florida and the Pacific coast of Mexico are considered endangered. Off the Texas coast, the Padre Island National Seashore serves a vital role in the survival of the turtle. Texas beaches also are important nesting sites and sea-grasses are an abundant food source.
But when the temperatures dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, a rare occurrence for those waters, the turtles’ heart rates slow. They become paralyzed but are still alive.
Sea Turtle, Inc., a nonprofit on the island, is helping to coordinate the rescue efforts. They have filled almost all of the floor space with the rescued turtles, which include green, Kemp’s Ridley and loggerheads.
“(Turtles) Ev-er-y-where,” Wendy Knight, executive director of the wildlife group, told National Geographic. “We have salad-plate-size turtles, dinner-plate-size turtles, and quite a few kiddie-pool-size turtles.”
Without the massive rescue effort, the sea turtle population would have been decimated, Knight said. One rescued turtle was more than 400 pounds and estimated to be 150 years old. It took 10 men to hoist it onto a flatbed truck.
“We have people who have not had power or water in their own homes in three to four days working 15 to 18 hours a day to save turtles,” Knight said. “The gas stations are now out of gas, and the grocery stories are out of water, and people are still showing up. That says something about the caliber of a community.”
Rescuers were able to restore power and are hopeful the turtles will survive. Some of the smaller turtles are starting to recover. Once they awaken, they regain bodily functions which, with nearly 5,000 turtles, could prove to be another challenge.
“The biggest mistake we could make is to release before the water is warm enough,” Knight said. “It’s very sweet right now, but it might not be for long. We need the weather to warm up, or we’re about to have 4,700 turtles ... awake.”