HARLINGEN — Sea turtle rescue teams are ready and poised for a busy day today.
Just two weeks after rescuing 309 cold-stunned sea turtles, teams from Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Texas Game Wardens and other volunteers are again ready to scour beaches and waters around South Padre Island for distressed turtles.
“We don’t have any coming in yet,” Sanjuana Zavala, marketing and public relations manager at Sea Turtle Inc. on South Padre Island, said yesterday afternoon. “We’re expecting some tomorrow since it will have been a good 24 hours for the water to get cold.”
When air temperatures drop suddenly in South Texas, the shallow waters of the Laguna Madre are quick to follow.
When water temperatures drop below 50 degrees, sea turtles enter a state in which they appear comatose, because reptiles cannot control their own body temperatures.
Most of these cold-stunned turtles are juvenile green sea turtles and are found in the Laguna Madre, where they have gone to feed. But those shallow waters can quickly lose heat when a cold front arrives, and the turtles become stranded when they can’t make it back to warmer gulf waters.
At that stage, they become unable to swim and float to the surface where they become vulnerable to boat strikes. Or they may wash ashore and become stranded, and if not rescued quickly, the helpless turtles often die of exposure or predation.
“We do have Laguna Atascosa sending out a boat, they’re going to start searching for us,” Zavala said. “The Texas Game Wardens are aware as well, so they’re kind of on-call.
“Texas Fish and Wildlife are ready to go out and be on the lookout,” she added.
At Padre Island National Seashore on North Padre Island, frigid conditions were already settling into place by mid-afternoon yesterday.
“Due to these severe weather conditions we anticipate a large cold stunning to occur all along the Laguna Madre from Wednesday through Thursday,” officials said in a statement. “Sea turtles affected by these freezing conditions need to be recovered quickly.”
As of yesterday afternoon, two cold-stunned sea turtles had been reported at PINS, officials said.
In the cold event two weeks ago, more than 1,400 sea turtles were rescued and rehabbed at the Sea Turtle Laboratory on North Padre Island.
On South Padre, steps have been taken to ensure a fast response.
“Our volunteers have got their emails to go out and check their hotspots,” Zavala said. “We’re kind of in a waiting game right now. But we’re ready.”
If you encounter any cold-stunned sea turtles on South Padre Island or Boca Chica Beach, call Sea Turtle Inc. at 956-761-4511.