3,500 Endangered and Threatened Sea Turtles Rescued From Freezing Texas Waters

Texans fight the cold to help save a species.

Nearly 3 million Texans are still without power as the state is inundated with snow and freezing temperatures in one of the coldest winter storm fronts in recent history. But 3,500 sea turtles are fairly cozy, thanks to the kindness of strangers.

Dozens of volunteers around the state’s South Padre Island have been rescuing sea turtles in recent days. The turtles are being brought to plastic-covered pallets inside the South Padre Island Convention Center. They’ll stay warm there until the weather breaks and they can return to the water.

Exposure to extreme temperatures can be fatal for sea turtles. They can experience a condition called “cold stun” that makes swimming, eating, or getting out of the water next to impossible when their bodies reach low temperatures.

“You could put a cold-stunned turtle in a half an inch of water and they’d drown,” Wendy Knight, the executive director of Sea Turtle Inc., a nonprofit group in South Padre Island, Texas, told The New York Times. Her group is helping to rescue the turtles.

3,500 Endangered Sea Turtles Rescued From Freezing Texas Waters

A Fight to Save a Species

According to Knight, this is the largest cold stun scare for the state’s sea turtles in decades. It’s a big enough threat that it could impact the population; five sea turtle species in the state are on the Endangered Species Act as endangered or threatened.

“It’s unprecedented,” she told The Washington Post. “A cold stun like this could have the potential to wipe out decades of hard work, and we’re going through it with no power and a unique, more catastrophic challenge to our efforts.”

Green sea turtles are underwater feeders who eat the local vegetation, playing a vital role in the ecosystem. They’re well-loved within the community; the rescue group says much of the island has mobilized to help rescue the animals.

Volunteers are still working to determine the extent of the threat to the endangered reptiles as they take boats out into the freezing weather to look for more turtles.

“It is a huge, huge community effort,” longtime volunteer Gina McLellan, told the Post. “We very often don’t even think about the [cold’s] impact on animals, because we’re so worried about our own electricity and water. With this kind of event, it’s a classic display of humanity toward animals.”

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