The Texas State Aquarium’s Wildlife Rescue Center in Corpus Christi, Texas, is participating in a major sea turtle cold stunning event and rescue operation due to the extraordinarily cold temperatures the Coastal Bend is experiencing. Since Saturday, 13 February, the Aquarium’s Wildlife Rescue Center has received over 900 green sea turtles, and hundreds more are expected to arrive over the next few days.
The Aquarium admitted this large number of cold-stunned sea turtles because many sea turtles stayed in the shallow bay systems on the Laguna Madre due to the mild winters over the past couple of years. Moreover, until recently, this winter has been fairly mild with outside temperatures ranging from 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The sea turtles in the Laguna Madre area did not get the normal thermal cues warning them it was time to move out of the shallow bays, and by earlier this week, it was too late.
Sea turtles are cold-blooded and rely on heat from their environment to maintain body temperature. When water and air temperatures drop rapidly, they become lethargic and unable to swim due to the cold. Many of the sea turtles may have pneumonia, and some could have other medical conditions or injuries from being washed against rocks. Cold stunned turtles require expert medical care.
“We anticipated this will be the most significant cold stunning event to date and prepared accordingly. We are expecting to receive hundreds more sea turtles over the next few days,” said Jesse Gilbert, senior vice president and chief operating officer at Texas State Aquarium.
As the sea turtles are transported to the Aquarium, they will go through an intake process where they will be closely inspected by staff to determine injuries, weight, vital signs, and other details which will affect their treatment and release. Each sea turtle receives an individualized treatment plan.
Many organizations throughout the South Texas Coast are working together to collect and transport the cold-stunned sea turtles to treatment facilities. Padre Island National Seashore is in charge of coordinating these rehabilitation efforts. In December 2020, the Padre Island National Seashore and the Texas State Aquarium formalized an Aquarium-Park Partnership to participate in joint conservation initiatives, such as this.
Other organizations volunteering to assist in this rescue operation include NOAA Fisheries, Texas Sealife Center, Texas General Land Office, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Park Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife, U.S. Coast Guard, the Animal Rehabilitation Keep (ARK) at UT Marine Science Institute, Sea World San Antonio, Sea Tow Corpus Christi, and many individual volunteers assisting with walking surveys, turtle transport, and turtle documentation.
“It will take a village to make sure we get through this cold stunning event, and we are very proud to be part of the numerous organizations along the South Texas Coast that are coming together to assist in this major conservation effort,” said Gilbert.
These labor-intensive rescue operations might be one of the most significant conservation works that the Texas State Aquarium has ever performed in its 30-year history.
Photos credit: © Texas State Aquarium