Dozens of volunteers on South Padre Island are coming together to rescue cold-stunned turtles amid Texas’s deadly winter storm.
The power is out, and the water has stopped running for most of the typically warm beach town, but many residents braved the freezing temperatures to rescue the endangered sea turtles. The people ventured on foot and by boat, working tirelessly to gather as many turtles as possible.
Volunteers working with Sea Turtle, Inc. had transported over 3,500 comatose turtles by late Tuesday. The reptiles were brought to the town’s rescue center to be rehabilitated. Conservationists hope to gradually increase the turtles’ body heat as they lay them on tarps and kiddie pools indoors.
But Wendy Knight, the local rescue group’s executive director, fears that hundreds of the recovered turtles may have already succumbed to the cold.
“It’s unprecedented. A cold stun like this could have the potential to wipe out decades of hard work, and we’re going through it with no power and a unique, more catastrophic challenge to our efforts,” she told The Washington Post.
Below zero temperatures and prolonged power outages have left more than a dozen people dead around the U.S. as of early Wednesday. And it’s not just the turtles; other animals have also felt the brunt of the Arctic Chill that has ravaged Texas and other areas in the southern part of the country.
According to conservationists, it often takes days for them to know how many turtles were able to survive as the animals slowly regain warmth.
These turtles play a significant role in keeping the ecosystem balanced. Dubbed as the “lawnmowers of the ocean,” they consume the area’s thick, underwater vegetation.
However, when temperatures drop below 50 Fahrenheit—which rarely happens in South Padre Island—the low temperatures can cause them to become cold-stunned.
When this happens, a turtle’s heart rate lowers and its flippers become paralyzed. Its body will then float comatose above the water and will sometimes be washed ashore. This phenomenon can put them at risk of predators, boats, and even drowning.
In a typical year, Sea Turtle, Inc. volunteers expect to rescue anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred cold-stunned turtles, warming them inside the group’s facility. But this time, they were already filling up the rescue center to the brim before the weekend was up.
They put out a call for help, and the community didn’t disappoint. Soon, much of the island transported the turtles to an overflow facility at the South Padre Island Convention Center. The generators and good insulation in the place could help keep the animals warm.
On Monday and Tuesday, boats went out to scoop up cold-stunned turtles from the freezing water. Other volunteers on foot scanned the beach for any reptiles and loaded them into their trunks and truck beds to bring them to the rescue center.
Gina McLellan, a 71-year-old retired professor and longtime volunteer, said this is “a huge, huge community effort.”
“We very often don’t even think about the [cold’s] impact on animals, because we’re so worried about our own electricity and water. With this kind of event, it’s a classic display of humanity toward animals,” she said.
Although she’s grateful for the volunteers, Knight said that their efforts would be in vain without the power grid’s help.
The “dry dock” rehabilitation method used inside the centers can only do so much. The dozens of injured and sick turtles need to be treated inside massive, heated tanks.
“If we don’t get some relief from a power standpoint, we’re not going to be able to sustain this,” Knight said.
Hopefully, each of these turtles will be returned to their habitat once the harsh weather has subsided.
You can help by donating to Sea Turtle, Inc. You may also follow their Facebook page for more updates.