While the brutal winter storms across the U.S. are difficult for humans, they also put wildlife at risk, particularly cold-blooded reptiles, like sea turtles. Fortunately, instead of staying home and trying to keep warm during massive power outages, volunteers in coastal Texas are braving stormy waters and cold weather by boat or on foot to haul in cold-stunned sea turtles.
Sea Turtle, Inc. is overseeing this massive rescue, which has saved over 4,500 sea turtles since last Sunday. The conservation nonprofit is getting creative to house all these turtles. About 500 are in bins in the organization’s own facility. The other 4,000 are currently residing at the South Padre Island Convention Center. Instead of the center’s usual business trade show or convention crowd, it is hosting sea turtles in a wall-to-wall array of kiddie pools, boxes and tarps. Perhaps the most impressive turtle rescued so far weighs 400 pounds and is about 150 years old.
“The love and support of people who just want to help things that can’t help themselves is overwhelming,” said Wendy Knight, executive director of Sea Turtle, Inc. In addition to individual volunteers, local government-built turtle storage platforms and SpaceX, which has a nearby launch site, provided something really special. “Like a ray from heaven, yesterday at 7:30 p.m. the site director and operations manager for SpaceX Boca Chica and two electricians and engineers from SpaceX showed up on our property with the largest generator I’ve ever seen,” Knight told NPR on Wednesday.
With no end yet to the cold weather, the turtles will probably stay in the convention center at least until the weekend. If more turtles are rescued, a third storage facility will be necessary.
Cold-blooded animals like turtles are especially vulnerable to weather extremes, as they are unable to regulate their body temperatures. Cold stun happens when water temperatures drop below 50°F. Suddenly, sea turtles find themselves unable to move and may become stranded or injured; they could even drown. Texas has five species of sea turtles, all of which are considered either threatened or endangered.
Image via Texas Parks and Wildlife Department