When the Gulf of Mexico’s waters cool below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, sea turtles are more susceptible to hypothermic shock, which can lower their heart rate and leave them floating in the water with their flippers paralyzed. Due to unseasonably cold weather across Texas this week, more than 3,500 cold-stunned sea turtles have been brought in by rescuers.
Typically, Sea Turtle, Inc., the island’s turtle rescue and rehabilitation center saves anywhere from a couple dozen to a few hundred cold-stunned turtles off South Padre Island. But it quickly reached max capacity with the sheer increase in numbers. Thankfully, South Padre Island Convention Centre jumped into action: Hundreds of cold-stunned turtles are thawing out in kiddie pools and tarps along the convention center’s floors.
South Padre, the largest barrier island in Texas, is home to five different sea turtle species—all of which are listed as threatened or endangered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Under normal conditions, the sea turtles move toward warmer water, bask atop the water’s surface, or head inland to warm up. But when the weather turns as quickly as it has this week, the turtles can be trapped comatose in the cold water. Some turtles are washing ashore, while others risk being run over by boats, killed by predators, or drowning. Volunteers are filling boats and the backs of SUVs with turtles in an attempt to keep the reptiles alive.
Complicating the rescue effort are power outages caused by fierce winter storms. Millions of people in Texas are without electricity, heat, and, in some cases, water. Sea Turtle Inc. itself lost power and the ability to heat and filter the water in its animal tanks. They were aided by a team from SpaceX—Elon Musk’s company has a spaceport and test site nearby in Brownsville—who brought and helped install a large commercial generator to power the facility.
Sanjuana Zavala, a spokeswoman for Sea Turtle, Inc. told the Washington Post the cold-stun event was unprecedented.
“We knew this was not a regular cold stun,” she said, “and we knew we had to do something.”
When the convention center runs out of floor space, a local resort is offering to open its conference room and indoor water park to the turtles. How’s that for some feel-good news?
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