In December 2022, rescuers saved the lives of hundreds of sea turtles thanks, in part, to funding provided by a Texas Trustee’s component of the Sea Turtle Early Restoration Project.
At water temperatures below 50 degrees, sea turtles become cold-stunned. Their heart rates and circulation slow and they become lethargic. They stop swimming, float to the water’s surface, and can drown or drift to shore where predators can easily take them.
Dr. Phillippe Tissot, of Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi, says that in late December, air temperatures fell to a frigid 25 degrees Fahrenheit and water temperatures fell to below 40 degrees. These extremely low temperatures resulted in rescuers finding 737 cold-stunned sea turtles from December 23 through 27. Rescuers gathered the turtles from bayside shorelines and inshore waterways from Galveston to South Padre Island.
Despite the cold and wind, numerous people fanned out along the coast to search for cold-stunned turtles. Rescuers took the animals to rehabilitation facilities where they could slowly warm. The rescuers, a.k.a. sea turtle heroes, included people from state and federal agencies, universities, non-governmental groups, volunteers, and the general public. More than 500 of the sea turtles survived and were released into warmer Gulf of Mexico waters in December.
This project has been valuable for sea turtles that frequent Texas because cold-stunning events are becoming more frequent and more severe in Texas. During the last ten years, cold-stunned sea turtles have been found every year including as recent as February 2023. Only two years ago, a fast-moving and prolonged cold front caused a rapid decline in temperatures to record-breaking lows and caused the largest sea turtle stunning event in Texas and, in fact, the largest in the world.
The Sea Turtle Early Restoration Project was one of the first projects approved for the Texas Restoration Area. The $45 million project is managed by Texas, NOAA, and DOI. It has four components, one of which enhances the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage network including response, salvage, rehabilitation, and associated activities. In Texas, the Trustees distribute funds to a number of agencies and organizations that contribute to sea turtle stranding response and rehabilitation efforts including Padre Island National Seashore, Texas Parks and Wildlife, Sea Turtle, Inc., Texas A&M at Galveston, Texas Sealife Center, and Amos Rehabilitation Keep.
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