SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Many sea turtles affected by the frigid weather that recently swept through the Rio Grande Valley have returned to their home in the Gulf of Mexico.
On Tuesday, Sea Turtle, Inc. released 77 cold-stunned Atlantic green sea turtles back into the ocean at Cameron County Beach Access #4.
Group by group Sea Turtle, Inc. personnel took turns carrying turtles of all sizes into the ocean’s recurring waves.
In total, Sea Turtle, Inc. rescued 80 cold-stunned turtles from the cold temperatures this past weekend.
“We got a few on Friday, most of them on Saturday and a few on Sunday,” Sea Turtle, Inc. Chief Executive Officer Wendy Knight said. “There’s a few we’re going to hold back for rehab and some review.”
According to Sea Turtle, Inc. Chief Conservation Officer Dr. Amy Bonka, a cold-stun occurs when water temperatures drop below 50 degrees and causes sea turtles to be stunned.
“So our turtles are in the water and when the water temperature drops like that, they have a hard time moving their muscles, can’t really swim and can wash in on shore,” Bonka said. “When that happens, we go out and check different areas to see if we find any cold-stunned turtles.”
Sea Turtle, Inc. received help from local business Captain Murphy’s Fishing Charters to rescue this latest group of cold-stunned sea turtles.
The business donated its vessels, captains and crew to help scout and rescue the turtles.
“We’ve done it for the past year so whenever they had the big cold freeze last year our boats were out there for several days and our crews were on it helping them,” Captain Murphy’s Operations Manager Lisa Graves said. “We always like to give back to the community and help Sea Turtle, Inc.”
Sea Turtle, Inc. Director of Animal Care Chris Gorman said personnel were really excited to release the turtles and explained the steps taken to get them ready to return to the ocean.
“The first thing that we do after we receive the turtles, process them and assign them to their different holding bins, is we want to start slowly heating the turtles up,” Gorman said. “We want to bring their body temperatures back to within the normal range.”
Gorman added that they try not to do this process too rapidly because it could have a negative effect physically on the sea turtles.
Occasionally, the turtles will start to crawl around as they start to warm back up again.
When team members start to see better activity levels, they prepare for the next big step.
“Once we’ve gotten their body temperatures back to a more normal level, what we did is fill up one of our tanks in the clinic with some shallow water and we tested each individual sea turtle to see how their swimming abilities were,” Gorman said.
The turtles were checked to see if they could do things like dive to the bottom of the tank and come up to the surface to take some good, quality breaths.
“I’d like to give a huge shoutout and thank you to our staff, two interns, an amazing volunteer group, as well as to all of the support on social media that we’ve received over the last couple of days,” Gorman said. “We could not do this without you.”
Those who see or come across a stranded sea turtle on South Padre Island or Boca Chica beach are asked to call Sea Turtle, Inc.’s 24/7 emergency line at (956) 243-4361.