SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Dennis and Lorri Wallace stood behind a strip of yellow caution tape in a crowd of dozens of people and smiled as sea turtles were carried past them one by one through a path made in the sand.
Almost as if resembling a parade, many onlookers clapped their hands with joy and took pictures of several lightweight green sea turtles that waved their flippers as they were led in a row toward the Gulf waves.
Yesterday, Sea Turtle, Inc. personnel and volunteers released 16 rehabilitated juvenile green sea turtles that ranged from 3 to 12 years old into the Gulf near Isla Blanca Park.
The sea turtles were among a group of 20 that had been rescued in the shallow waters of the Laguna Madre bay during the Valley’s latest round of cold fronts that struck the area last week.
“We’re fortunate that the cold snap didn’t last that long,” Sea Turtle, Inc. Executive Director Jeff George said. “We warmed them up slowly and these 16 sea turtles were able to go back in the ocean where they belong.”
According to Sea Turtle, Inc. personnel, sudden drops in air and water temperature can cause turtles to go into a hypothermic shock they call “cold-stunned.”
Two of the 20 rescued turtles succumbed to their injuries.
And another set are still recovering.
“Two of the turtles are doing fine, but they’re going through extensive rehab because they have trauma to the eyes and to the shell,” George said. “They’ll hopefully make a full recovery and their release probably won’t be until spring.”
As the winter season approaches, Sea Turtle, Inc. personnel say they expect more sea turtles will be affected by the weather.
“Imagine now that it’s November and winter is still upon us,” George said. “We’re still technically in the fall and so that Laguna Madre is going to suffer more cold fronts.”
George said during the days when it’s chilly outside, it’s important for visitors of the bay and beach to remember sea turtles are endangered and suffer from hypothermia when the water gets too cold.
“It’s important for people to notify Sea Turtle, Inc. when they come across a turtle,” he said. “You’re not going to get in trouble. We’re going to tell you what to do and then we’ll come and rescue the turtles.”
HOW YOU CAN HELP
• Beachgoers that come across sea turtles that are floating or washed ashore on South Padre Island or Boca Chica Beach, are asked to call Sea Turtle, Inc.’s emergency number at (956) 243-4361.