Cold-stun around the nation

In mid-November, South Padre Island had a cold front come through for about a week that affected many sea turtles in the Laguna Madre. The water temperature dropped rapidly, causing many to cold-stun — a form of hypothermia. About 70 sea turtles were brought to the facility over the course of three to four days for care.

Seventy cold-stunned sea turtles is not unusual during a cold front, although it was a little early in the winter season for such an extreme drop in temperatures. Since then, we have had very mild weather, allowing us to release most of the cold-stun turtles that had no other ailments. However, the New England Aquarium in Massachusetts has had a very busy season of cold-stun sea turtles that started around the same time as ours and hasn’t quit. Since November 10, they have received about 750 sea turtles – a never before seen number.

Completely overwhelmed from the amount of incoming turtles and limited space, NEAQ has been working with sea turtle rehabilitation centers all along the East Coast, as far south as Florida, to share the burden of rehabilitation. The U.S. Coast Guard has even aided in transportation, flying hundreds to Florida, where the turtles were then divided amongst seven rescue centers for care.

Many of the cold-stunned sea turtles we see at Sea Turtle, Inc. are juvenile green sea turtles because they prefer a habitat with sea grass, like the Laguna Madre. In contrast, the New England Aquarium has seen many juvenile Kemp’s ridley sea turtles because that species follow the Gulf stream up north in search of its favorite food: blue crab.

We pay close attention to sea turtle rehabilitation efforts around the nation — and even the world — because their efforts have a direct effect on the sea turtle populations here, and vice versa.

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles nest primarily in the State of Tamaulipas, Mexico. About two percent of the populations nests on Texas beaches. They do not nest anywhere else in the world. So those Kemp’s ridley juveniles that the New England Aquarium is working hard to rehabilitate were born on Texas or Mexican beaches. And when they are mature adults, they will return to the same beaches to nest. In fact, this summer we found one nesting female that had a tag from the New England Aquarium. They had rescued and tagged her 12 years prior during another winter cold spell. The future of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtles relies on the efforts of conservationists along the eastern coastlines of North and South America. Other species, like the leatherback sea turtles, need people working together around the globe. We are all connected, and with major incidents like these, it is wonderful to see so many entities work together for the greater good of the sea turtles.