Dozens of Rescued Sea Turtles Flown to Rehab Centers

The endangered turtles were 'cold-stunned' from chilly temperatures.

Rescued Kemp's ridley sea turtle
Rescue Kemp's ridley sea turtle .

Jekyll Island Authority

Dozens of cold-stunned, stranded sea turtles were flown this week from Massachusetts to long-term rehabilitation facilities.

Shocked by colder temperatures, the turtles will be given medical care and slowly brought back to health.

“Sea turtles regulate their body temperatures by the water temperatures around them, and during the winter, many sea turtles get caught in hypothermic water temperatures that are below 50 degrees,” Rachel Overmeyer, rehabilitation program manager for the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island, tells Treehugger.

“A stranded sea turtle is one that is found washed ashore or floating, alive or dead. If the turtle is alive, it is generally in a weakened condition and may be sick or injured.

There are seven species of sea turtles in the world and six are found in the United States. All six of those species are protected under the Endangered Species Act. The Kemp’s ridley turtle and the hawksbill turtle are listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species and the green sea turtle is listed as endangered.

The recent flight transported 43 sea turtles from the New England Aquarium in Boston and the National Marine Life Center in Bourne, Massachusetts. They made three stops to drop off turtles, first to the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society in Hampton Bays, New York, then to the South Carolina Aquarium in Charleston and the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. The deliveries included six green sea turtles and 37 Kemp’s ridley turtles.

There are several ways cold-stunned turtles will be treated.

“Slowly rewarming the turtles to match the water temperature to their body temperature is very important. The temperature will be raised by 5 degrees per day. If the temperature is raised too quickly, it can create physiological changes that can cause them to become stressed or shocked,” Overmeyer says.

“The turtles will also receive supportive care that could include blood work, radiographs, diagnostics, and wound management if they have any wounds. Facilities in the south typically receive cold-stunned sea turtles because of their proximity to warmer water if and when the patient is ready to be released.”

Rehabbing and Releasing

Rescued sea turtle is examined by rehabbers
Rescued sea turtle is examined by rehabbers.

Jekyll Island Authority

The Georgia Sea Turtle Center is an education, research, and rehabilitation facility. Since 20017, the center has assisted more than 1,500 sick, stranded, or injured animals.

Sometimes the turtles are rehabilitated to the point that they can be released. Sometimes they become permanent residents.

“The timeline and release for a patient is always dependent on the turtle's health and response to care,” Overmeyer says.

“Releasing back to the wild cannot be guaranteed as there are multiple factors that go into making that decision. Some patients, depending on their injury, require regular care or physical therapy to maintain their health and instead of being released back into the wild are transferred to a long-term care facility where they become educational animals.”

Flying to Safety

Rescued turtles in pools
Rescued turtles warm up slowly in pools.

Jekyll Island Authority

The cold-stunned turtles made the trip from Massachusetts with the help of Turtles Fly Too, a group that enlists pilots to volunteer their time and planes to fly sea turtles to safety. The group partners with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to provide transportation when sea turtles are injured, entangled, or have been cold-stunned.

Rehabbers don’t know how many sea turtles are cold-stunned each year.

“Cold-stunning is unpredictable and solely based on the weather,” Overmeyer says. “You can anticipate that the greater the drop in temperature, the greater the likelihood of more sea turtles being impacted, but otherwise it's unpredictable.”

View Article Sources
  1. "Sea Turtles." National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

  2. "Sea Turtle." IUCN Red List.

  3. Rachel Overmeyer, rehabilitation program manager for the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island

  4. "Turtles Cold-Stunned In New England Needed Help." Turtles Fly Too.