The winter storm last week in Texas didn’t just endanger humans; cold temperatures also threatened thousands of sea turtles. The nonprofit organization Sea Turtle, Inc in South Padre Island, Texas, and volunteers helped rescue the animals. They took in over 5,000 cold-stunned turtles and eventually released over 2,200 after rehabilitating them.
Sea turtles use the normally warm waters in south Texas to regulate their body temperature since they’re cold-blooded. The sudden drop in temperatures can lead to “cold stunning,” which knocks the creatures unconscious in the water below 50° Fahrenheit. This can lead to deaths due to hypothermia or drowning.
Once the temperatures started dropping, Sea Turtle Inc called for help to rescue the sea turtles. People all over south Texas started showing up, offering to do whatever they could to save the helpless creatures. Last Monday, the nonprofit reached capacity due to the influx of turtles, sending overflow to the island’s convention center. By the next day, over 1,700 turtles had been rescued.
Volunteers placed them in rows on tarps and filled kiddie pools with water to warm them up. Out in the Gulf, Texas game wardens used their patrol boats to rescue hundreds of turtles. Because of the frigid temperatures, the sea turtles lost the function of their flippers. Volunteers used nets to scoop them up, and by the end of the day, the convention center housed 3,500 turtles.
People went out in recreational boats, fishing vessels, and even dinner cruise ships to rescue the turtles. The tide pushed many turtles ashore, so volunteers walked along the beach as well to pick up the stranded creatures. They transported the turtles to the nearby facility using trucks and trailers. Without the community’s support, the huge rescue effort couldn’t have taken place.
SpaceX employees and Texas Game Wardens also helped save the turtles.
Texas Game Wardens assigned to Cameron County rescued 141 sea turtles from the Brownsville Ship Channel and nearby bays. According to an update by Wendy Knight, the nonprofit’s executive director, one of the turtles weighed 400 pounds! Six people had to help move the giant turtle under heating lamps. They estimated he was over 150 years old.
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Wendy was greatly moved by the outpouring of generosity from the local community.
“The love and support of people who just want to help things that can’t help themselves are overwhelming,” Knight told NPR.
The massive power outages on the island presented another challenge. Volunteers struggled to keep the turtles warm as temperatures continued to fall. The power went out at 2 AM on Valentine’s Day, and the turtle’s tanks began to cool. They moved the turtles to tarps and kiddie pools temporarily but worried about caring for them with no power.
Just when they thought it couldn’t get any worse, SpaceX employees came to save the day. Representatives from the Boca Chica launch facility nearby visited last Tuesday night. They brought a huge commercial generator to the nonprofit organization to help them heat their tanks and equipment.
Knight said on Facebook, “This kind of reach out from our community sponsors at SpaceX. There are no words to explain the gratitude we have. They came to us in our darkest hour of need and got us a generator that was complex to find and even more complex to wire into our system.”
SpaceX employees even rescued nearly 1,000 sea turtles by themselves.
Wendy said Sea Turtle, Inc has collaborated with SpaceX for years on research and turtle conservation training. On Monday, officials from the company reached out and asked how they could help. Without the enormous generator, the turtles may not have survived much longer.
Thanks to the community’s support, thousands of turtles got to go back home.
Thankfully, the organization could release over 2,200 rehabilitated turtles back into the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday. They worked tirelessly for over 24 hours to get the sea turtles ready for release. They still have plenty of work ahead with the remaining turtles but have been thrilled with recovery efforts thus far. The team hopes to release many more over the coming weeks.
The turtles have endured the largest cold-stunning event ever recorded. Wendy called it “the Armageddon of all cold stuns,” saying that the power outage greatly exacerbated the event. She also said that they prepare each year for cold stuns but not for long-term power outages simultaneously.
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With the help of SpaceX and the massive generator, the power came back last Wednesday morning. However, Knight quickly discovered that the winter storm had caused damage to all of their heaters and coolers. These ensure a comfortable climate for the turtles in the large community tanks. Sea Turtle Inc started a fundraiser to make necessary repairs, raising over 25% of their goal so far.
The sudden cold snap sent shockwaves throughout Texas, impacting both humans and animals. At Sea Turtle, Inc, the health and safety of the turtles remained their priority. All five sea turtle species in Texas are threatened or endangered, which only heightened the urgency of the situation. Volunteers who didn’t even have running water or power at their homes showed up to help.
It took a collaboration of engineers, volunteers, and coordinators to pull off the massive rescue. Wendy Knight says she will continue to update Facebook about the remaining turtles’ recovery.
Final thoughts: Thousands of cold-stunned sea turtles rescued from frigid waters in Texas
The recent winter storm that hit Texas knocked out water and power for millions. It also made it dangerous for animals, who had little shelter from the harsh conditions. The sea turtles in south Texas became cold-stunned due to the sudden drop in water temperatures. The nonprofit organization Sea Turtle Inc, located on South Padre Island, enlisted the help of volunteers to save the turtles.
The huge collaborative effort greatly paid off, saving thousands of sea turtles from hypothermia. On Sunday, after the gulf started warming up, nearly half of the rescued turtles got to return home.