SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas (NewsNation Now) – Thousands of cold-stunned sea turtles have washed up on the South Padre Island shoreline in Texas following a prolonged drop in temperatures brought by a record-breaking winter storm.
The community has banded together as a range of experienced and first-time volunteers have been rescuing and driving sea turtles to the South Padre Island Convention Center for the past several days reported NewsNation affiliate KVEO.
A local sea turtle conservation nonprofit, Sea Turtle, Inc., is spearheading the effort to save the sea turtles. As of Thursday morning, they are caring for over 4,500 sea turtles, having to house the overflow of unprecedented stranded turtles at the convention center after their facilities reached capacity and were overwhelmed.
“To have 4,500 cold-stunned turtles in a location is unprecedented,” said Wendy Knight, Sea Turtle, Inc. Executive Director. “The tragedy that would have would have come from this event, could have wiped out more than 30 years of Sea Turtle, Inc’s conservation efforts.”
An average cold stun usually results in a rescue effort ranging from 200 to 500 turtles, explained Knight. The largest rescue operation to date has been at most 900 turtles due to one weather event.
To date, the organization has released over 55,000 sea turtle hatchlings into the Gulf of Mexico. The vast majority of the stranded sea turtles are of the green variety that generally live and feed in shallow coastal waters. While most will soon be able to be released back into the Gulf, many will need further care.
“They have injuries and medical care that is going to be needed, they’ll be at the hospital with us,” Knight told KVEO.
Volunteer coordinator, Mary Duncan, said that people beyond those official volunteers that participate in an annual training were offering to help — from boat owners to those just visiting the beach and local business owners.
“When they call our stranding hotline, we just ask would you be willing to help us and everyone says yes which is amazing,” said Duncan.
“We’ve seen everything from small turtles as small as a soccer ball to big turtles as big as a pallet that weighed over 400 pounds, it took 3 or 4 of us to lift off a truck,” said volunteer Irving Hernandez, who has been donating 12 hours of his time a day.
Manager of Beach Resort at South Padre Island, Nathan Kasan found out about the sea turtle stranding through a Facebook post, and despite dealing with the power outage themselves, they prepared their hotel convention room to take in more sea turtles if needed.
“We think it was the right thing to do,” said Kasan. “This is the only way we could help them at this time so that’s why we did this gesture.”
For those hoping to contribute from afar, an Amazon wish list has been put up on their website.
“This event has really shown me the passion that people in the Rio Grande Valley have to help things that cannot help themselves,” said Knight.
If you encounter a stranded sea turtle, call 956-243-4361. More information can be found on seaturtlinc.org.