Volunteers help sea turtles return to Laguna Madre

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Sea Turtle Inc. with the help of U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Texas Game Wardens assisted in the release of more than 100 sea turtles at Isla Blanca Park on Monday.

Sea Turtle Inc. officials said due to the recent cold front, more than 300 sea turtles washed up on shore “cold stunned.”

“When a cold stun happens in theory it’s a hypothermic shock,” Sea Turtle Inc. Marketing Director Sanjuana Zavala said. “These (Atlantic) Green turtles live in the Laguna Madre Bay. … So when the temperature drops here the water temperature drops as well. These turtles get cold stunned when the water is below 50 degrees.”

Zavala said when a sea turtle is cold stunned they are washed up and stranded on the beach because they can’t move their bodies in the water.

“ Once we see the temperature going down dramatically within a few hours (or) within a few days we start patrolling the beach,” Zavala said.

When the rehabilitation center receives cold-stun turtles, they immediately start the process of bringing up their body temperature.

“They get weighed, they get measurements, they get a label and they get a number and they get a medical record with us,” Zavala said. “We let them out in kiddie pools (in a warm room) with no water and we let them thaw out to get their energy back. The way we know if they’re alive or not we do the Orbital Wing Test; we poke their eyelid.”

Zavala said a small number of sea turtles did die from being cold stunned.

Sea Turtle Executive Director Jeff George said the amount of support they received to save these turtles was impressive.

“Without volunteers, community support, Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Wardens, U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff dealing with these turtles quickly would be impossible,” George said. “Sea Turtle Inc. is very grateful for the community support from the federal level down to the volunteer level.”