Volunteers Rescue 2,500 Cold-Stunned Sea Turtles in Texas

Record-breaking temperatures threaten lives.

hundreds of stunned sea turtles
Hundreds of stunned sea turtles warm up in a convention center.

Courtesy of Sea Turtle, Inc. / Facebook

More than 2,500 sea turtles have been rescued by volunteers on South Padre Island, Texas, after frigid temperatures have "cold stunned" them and made them vulnerable to hypothermia.

Members of the nonprofit rehabilitation group Sea Turtle, Inc. received the first turtles on Feb. 14 when winter storm Uri spread snow, ice, and plunging cold through much of the United States. By the next day, the rescuers were at capacity in their conservation facility where they lost power and were asking for generator help.

Volunteers continue to walk the beaches, taking stunned sea turtles to temporary housing at the City of South Padre Island Convention Center.

"On our way with a load of turtles," one volunteer wrote on Facebook. "My daughter couldn't bear for the babies to be in the cold any longer so she has them riding in the back with her cuddled in blankies! See yall soon!"

Sea turtles are cold-blooded animals that rely on outer sources of heat to regulate their body temperatures. When water temperatures typically reach 50 F (10 C), their heart rates and circulation can drop, causing them to become lethargic. When they are cold-stunned like this, according to the Turtle Island Restoration Network, it can lead to shock, pneumonia, frostbite, and death if they aren't able to warm up slowly.

Sea Turtle, Inc. has shared striking images each day of hundreds of turtles in plastic kiddie pools and in homemade wooden containers with plastic liners. Many people ask why they aren't active, but because they are cold-stunned, they don't have the energy to move around.

Sea turtles in a bin
Courtesy of Sea Turtle, Inc / Facebook

In response to someone concerned how long the turtles could safely remain outside the water, the group posted, "A few days. They are doing well. We are just waiting for them to come out of the hypothermic shock."

With power still out at the organization's main facility, the group has five 25,000- to 55,000-gallon tanks where the resident creatures that have lived there for almost 40 years are "very close to perishing," Wendy Knight, executive director, said in a Facebook video.

The group has several resident sea turtles that were former patients. Because they have less than 75% of their flippers, they are considered unsuitable for life in the wild. All of these residents — Gerry, Fred, Allison, Hang Ten, and Merry Christmas — are out of their tanks and doing well, according to the organization.

As of Tuesday, Feb. 16, volunteers had managed to save more than 2,500 sea turtles from the cold, and people from all over the world who are following the rescue efforts have donated more than $31,000 so far for their care. (You can donate here.)

Sea turtles in a warehouse
Courtesy of Sea Turtle, Inc. / Facebook

"Thank you to everyone who has been delivering sea turtles to us today!" the organization posted on Facebook. "This is the biggest sea turtle cold stunned event in south Texas and we are overly grateful for the support. All your donations are helping us pull through … A great effort by everyone. A million thanks and a lot more turtle hugs!!"

View Article Sources
  1. Network, Turtle. "What Happens When Sea Turtles Are Cold Stunned?Turtle Island Restoration Network.