One of the more unexpected stories of hardship and tragedy emerging from this week’s snowstorm and cold temperatures across Texas is the rescue effort underway to save the sea turtles that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico. Animal rescue organizations, volunteers from around the state, and even the U.S. Coast Guard are all diving into the cold water and scouring the beaches for the stranded and endangered animals.
Turtles are cold-blooded animals and they depend on the water temperature to regulate their body temperatures. With the water temperate having plunged to the mid-30’s F the animals are sent into shock. They become lethargic, floating on the surface, unable to move out of the way of ships and boats or predators, and struggling to breathe.
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
The stranded animals are showing up all around Texas. Texas Game Wardens reported finding more than 140 sea turtles floating the Brownsville Ship Channel alone. The non-profit Texas rescue organization Sea Turtles Inc. estimates that it has retrieved nearly 3,000 sea turtles of varying species, sizes, and ages. The organization has retrieved so many turtles that it is running out of space at its facilities. Authorities responding by offering the South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau for more space to house the turtles.
As increasing numbers of stranded turtles started washing up on the beaches or floating on the waterways, volunteers began scouring the waters and bringing the animals to the rescues for care. One volunteer said they knew there were turtles in the water but never imagined just how many were out there. As the numbers continue to mount there has even been discussion of conducting an emergency airlift to transport some of the turtles to rescue centers in Florida.
Two rescue swimmers for the U.S. Coast Guard station in Corpus Christi even got into the act using their survival training and skills at ocean rescues. “We were more than happy to lend our assistance and expertise to the larger group effort helping to save the sea turtles that had been affected by the freeze,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Will Groskritz. “Russ (Petty Officer 2nd Class Russell Grizzard) and I swam through some rough and cold water to help these turtles that were out of reach from shore.” The Coast Guard rescued 60 sea turtles as part of a local effort that gathered over 400 cold-stunned sea turtles and transported them to local rehabilitation centers.
They ran out of space at the rescue center, so the local convention center opened its doors to turtle storage. This video was from yesterday afternoon. By the time my mom sent it to me, there were so many more that she said, “there is no empty floor space tonight.” pic.twitter.com/g6Gw7dfIOQ
— Lara (@lara_hand) February 16, 2021
Once they are transported to the centers the challenge is to warm the turtles. “We have been so pleased with the community acceptance,” said Wendy Knight, the executive director at Sea Turtle Inc. in a social media posting. “But all of these efforts will be in vain if we do not soon get power restored to our facility.”
As word of the plight of the turtles spread Elon Musk’s company SpaceX even got involved. On Wednesday, SpaceX sent a large generator to the rescue facility to provide power for the heaters and ventilation systems.
Once the water temperature rise, the uninjured animals can be released back into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
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