Rescuing Texas Sea Turtles

Hundreds of Green Sea Turtles warming up in the South Padre Island Convention Center Photo by Miguel Roberts, taken on Feb 16, 2021, Some rights reserved,

Last week an unprecedented cold front swept across the southern United States dropping temperatures into the teens. This resulted in sprawling power outages across the state of Texas, leaving thousands without heat, electricity and water. Humans aren’t the only ones suffering from the freezing weather. When temperatures drop below 50 degrees, (which is rare for the Texas coast)  sea turtles’ heart rates slow, and they go into cold shock according to National Geographic. They are rendered immobile but conscious; these sea creatures are unable to eat, drink and keep their heads above water. Death by cold shock is painfully slow as turtles either starve to death, die of hypothermia, or pass away due to thirst. It is also common for predators to attack them while they are vulnerable or for boats to strike the turtles while they are paralyzed. 

Green Sea Turtles are listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA (Endangered Species Act). Their population is slowly growing in numbers thanks to the vigorous acts of conservationists; however, this recent cold front could result in the mass extinction of green sea turtles in the Texas area. According to Wendy Knight, executive director of Sea Turtle Inc, the cold would wipe out an estimated four decades of conservation work to protect the region’s threatened turtles.

Volunteers from the sea turtle conservation group Sea Turtle Inc. released a call to action on various social media platforms, encouraging locals to aid their efforts to rescue turtles from off the beach. Using the Sea Turtle Inc. rehabilitation facilities along with multiple convention centers, locals and volunteers have been retrieving the stranded creatures from beaches across the state. 

 “We have salad-plate-size turtles, dinner-plate-size turtles, and quite a few kiddie-pool-size turtles,” Knight said. 

Residents and volunteers formed a 400-yard line outside the convention center, bringing in an estimated 4,900 turtles, one of which was approximately 150 years old and weighed over 400 pounds. 

Some of the thousand cold-stunned Green Sea Turtles, Loggerhead Turtles, and Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles
Photo by Sunjuana Zavala, taken on Feb 17, 2021, Some rights reserved,

Sea Turtle Inc. staff are continuing to monitor the thousands of new turtles under their care. The smallest of the turtles, who tend to pass away from the cold first, are starting to shake off their paralysis. Bodily functions such as eating, moving and defecating are begging to come back to those of the turtles who have awoken. 

However, these turtles are not out of the woods yet. 

“The biggest mistake we could make is to release before the water is warm enough,”  Knight says. “Scientists are monitoring water temperatures around the island waiting for it to get to around 55 to 65 degrees.”

While Sea Turtle Inc. is a turtle rehabilitation center specializing in helping these creatures, they are simply not equipped to handle the masses of turtles in their care. The bottom line is that the water needs to warm up so these turtles can return back to nature.