As Temps Fell, Volunteers Rescued Nearly 5,000 Stunned Sea Turtles On South Padre Island

The cold-blooded turtles lost the ability to breathe or move, putting them at risk of drowning. They’re now warming up at the local convention center.

By Alexandra Hart & Shelly BrisbinFebruary 19, 2021 12:27 pm

This week’s colder-than-usual temperatures have been tough for animals, as well as people. On South Padre Island, volunteers have been working to relocate sea turtles and keep them warm.

Wendy Knight is executive director of South Padre Island’s Sea Turtle Inc. She told Texas Standard that the turtles, which are a federally protected endangered species, nest on the island’s beaches.

“A cold stun happens because sea turtles are cold-blooded,” Knight said. “They need the temperature of the water to regulate their body temperature. And so, when it gets cold, they basically shut down.”

When turtles aren’t able to move, they can’t lift their head to breathe, causing them to drown, Knight says.

Residents in the area know about the stresses cold temperatures place on sea turtles. When it gets cold, they rescue the animals.

“Our community is out there in boats, and walking the beaches and the bays, grabbing sea turtles and bringing them to us,” Knight said.

Sea Turtle Inc. is currently sheltering some 4,800 turtles. Knight says the best way to help those that have been rescued is to let them rest and get warm.

But like many others in Texas this week, Sea Turtle Inc. has been without power or water.

“We are treating 4,800 cold-stunned turtles in the dark,” knight said.

Most of the turtles are being housed in the local convention center. More than 500 remain at the Sea Turtle Inc. clinic, a facility Knight says is in need of repair.

“There are turtles everywhere,” she said.

While turtles are stunned, they don’t eat or have other bodily functions. Knight says it can take as much as a week for them to recover from that condition.

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