In the midst of a mind-bogglingly severe cold snap, heroic efforts are being made in Texas by warm-blooded animals to save thousands of their cold-blooded neighbors who lack the ability to fend off the freezing temperatures.
Volunteers at Sea Turtle Inc. rehabilitation center and among the local community on South Padre Island in the Gulf have so far rescued more than 4,900 sea turtles from death by “cold stunning”—an event that causes the turtles to fall into comatose if the water drops below 50° Fahrenheit.
My mom is retired, & she spends her winters volunteering at a sea turtle rescue center in south Texas. The cold snap is stunning the local turtles & they’re doing a lot of rescues. She sent me this photo today of the back of her Subaru. It’s *literally* turtles all the way down. pic.twitter.com/xaDRNjLDoQ
— Lara (@lara_hand) February 15, 2021
The normally balmy lagoon off the south tip of Texas is a place where sea turtles live year-round, a rarity for the migratory species, but the area lost power earlier in the week.
Volunteers’ efforts had by Tuesday already managed to scoop up 1,700 turtles, lining them up in rows on tarps in a nearby convention center that was donated for an emergency space. The community tried to help the turtles out of their comatose state by warming them in kiddy pools. By the end of the day there were 3,500 turtles in the makeshift I’T’CU.
Meanwhile in the Gulf, Texas game wardens used patrol boats to fish out hundreds more that had lost the ability to move their flippers in the cold water. According to an update by Wendy Knight, executive director of Sea Turtle Inc, another thousand cold-stunned turtles had been brought in, including one that was 150 years old and weighed 400 pounds.
Texas Game Wardens assigned to Cameron county rescued 141 sea turtles from the frigid waters of the Brownsville Ship Channel and surrounding bays. The sea turtles were transported via the PV Murchison, operated by Sgt. Game Warden Duke and B/M Bowers-Vest. pic.twitter.com/LqFBrElTog
— Texas Game Warden (@TexasGameWarden) February 17, 2021
“The love and support of people who just want to help things that can’t help themselves is overwhelming,” Knight told NPR.
“It is a huge, huge community effort,” Gina McLellan, a 71-year-old retired professor and volunteer, told The Washington 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.”
SpaceX to the rescue
SpaceX’s Boca Chica launch facility came Tuesday night and delivered a massive commercial generator to Sea Turtle Inc, which they used to power the heating of their enormous tanks and the equipment in their hospital.
“This kind of reach out from our community sponsors at SpaceX, there are no words to explain the gratitude we have,” Knight said on a Facebook video update. “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 actually rescued nearly another thousand turtles all on their own.
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After the power came back, Knight discovered that the storm had damaged or ruined all 10 of the heaters and coolers used for the large community tanks, and so Sea Turtle Inc. has started a fundraiser so that they can make repairs or afford replacements. They’ve currently raised 25% of their target goal.
We have surpassed more than 4,900 cold-stun sea turtles in the largest recorded cold-stun event in history. These endangered sea turtles are our number #1 priority your support and encouragement has been overwhelming. Donate here to support our efforts: https://t.co/9ajzm5oTTv pic.twitter.com/dEqu4Q8xtS
— Sea Turtle, Inc. (@SeaTurtleInc) February 19, 2021
Yesterday, Knight gave another video update in which she described Thursday as “a calm quiet day” at the makeshift hospital for the cold-stunned turtles.
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She noted that they had lived through the largest cold-stunning event in recorded history, and it would have been “Armageddon” if not for the enormous influx of volunteer time, money, and other resources. Cheers to everyone who got involved with this herculean effort to help the sea turtles.
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