Non-profit Sea Turtle, Inc., along with local volunteers have been retrieving the turtles by foot, in cars, or trucks from the shores.
Texas is going through an unprecedented cold wave that is wreaking havoc on humans and wildlife alike. Along the Texas coastline, thousands of sea turtles are washing up because of the winter storm. Volunteers from these coastal regions are taking up the collective responsibility of assisting the non-profit Sea Turtle, Inc., in the rescue of these endangered animals. Together they have managed to save over 4,500 turtles in South Padre Island alone, reported NPR. Despite the power and water supply cut-off, people have been working to save sea turtles from the freezing waters and rehabilitating them as best as they can.
The cold temperatures are causing the sea turtles to be "cold-stunned." This condition makes turtles immobile and often results in stranding. They are not dead but seem lifeless and will have to be rehabilitated. The turtles usually are cold-stunned when water temperatures drop to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Fox 13 reported that turtles become comatose as their heart rate drops and may even lose their ability to swim or even hold their head above water. Wendy Knight, the executive director of Sea Turtle Inc., said that against their instincts, the turtle's head will not rise above the water and there is a high possibility of them drowning.
Hundreds of turtles have already been housed in Sea Turtle Inc's hospital, other rehabilitation, and education centers. There has been an overwhelming amount of rescues performed since temperatures dropped. "We have been so pleased with the community acceptance," Knight said in a Facebook video. "But all of these efforts will be in vain if we do not soon get power restored to our facility." Local volunteers have been retrieving the turtles by foot, in cars, or even trucks. Once the non-profit's facility was full, the remaining turtles were taken to South Padre Island Convention Centre. Knight said that they have received assistance from the local government as well as SpaceX, which has a launch site nearby.
“Every 15 minutes or less there’s another truck or SUV that pulls up,” Ed Caum, executive director of the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, told The Associated Press. He said that he would not call it a rescue because as the cold conditions persist, he is sure that they will lose a few turtles. With another cold storm approaching, it is unsure when they will be able to return the sea turtles back into the water. The sea turtles are listed under the Endangered Species Act as "endangered" or "threatened" and are iconic animals in the region. South Padre Island is where the turtles come for nesting.
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. pic.twitter.com/xaDRNjLDoQ— Lara (@lara_hand) February 15, 2021
"We’re really going to know what we’re dealing with probably by Friday or Saturday, as far as how many are doing well and will be released, versus how many don’t make it," Knight said. On the bright side, a few turtles have started to wake up as their body warms up. Over the years the organization has released over 55,000 sea turtle hatchlings into the Gulf of Mexico. Over the previous decade, they have rescued 1,800 cold-stunned turtles. Now, over the course of three days, they are taking care of thrice the number of cold-stunned turtles.
Texas Game Wardens assigned to Cameron county rescued 141 sea turtles from the frigid waters of the Brownsville Ship Channel and surrounding bays. The sea turtles were transported via the PV Murchison, operated by Sgt. Game Warden Duke and B/M Bowers-Vest. pic.twitter.com/LqFBrElTog— Texas Game Warden (@TexasGameWarden) February 17, 2021
"Without a doubt, this event coupled with the withholding of the electric and the power, this could have been catastrophic. It could have wiped out a decade or more worth of our work," Knight said. To support the organization in their rescue efforts, you can donate here or through their Facebook page. If you come across sea turtles you can call Sea Turtle Inc's emergency sea turtle line at 956-243-4361 or the Turtle Island Restoration Network at 1-866-TURTLE5.