Last weekend’s frigid weather made outdoor living uncomfortable for people around Texas. But for turtles living across the Texas Gulf Coast, it could have been deadly.
Wildlife groups recovered more than 200 cold-stunned green turtles across Texas over the weekend.
Most of the turtles were found along southern parts of the coast. However, two were found in the Galveston Bay area and are being treated at the National Marine Fisheries Service’s Galveston Laboratory.
About 160 turtles were recovered at Boca Chica State Park in Brownsville, said Donna J. Shaver, the chief of the division of sea turtle science and recovery for the National Park Service at Padre Island National Seashore.
Cold stunning happens in bay areas where waters cool quickly and turtles become trapped, Shaver said.
”There are more green turtles in the southern Texas bays than in Galveston Bay because of the habitat,” Shaver said. “Green turtles inhabit inshore areas with lush seagrasses and there is more habitat like that in the Laguna Madre than in Galveston Bay.”
Temperatures across Texas fell below freezing at times between Friday and Sunday. In some areas, like Brownsville, it was the lowest temperatures since 2011.
Cold stunning happens when sea turtles are exposed to cold water temperatures for a prolonged time period. The cold decreases the turtles’ heart rates and circulation and causes lethargy. If untreated, the turtles can go into shock, suffer pneumonia and die.
The weather is expected to warm up this week, with temperatures in Galveston expected to reach to nearly 80 degrees by Wednesday.
Lyndsey Howell, a fishery biologist, at the Galveston Laboratory said there would be turtle patrols in some areas in coming days to look for ailing turtles.
”We usually get quite a few,” Howell said. “There can be a delayed effect, especially with it being so cold people may not have gone outside.”
Howell said many turtles are found by people such as anglers and hunters who travel to remote areas around the bay.
So far this year, most of the turtles that have been found stunned on beaches have been found alive. Of the 273 turtles found, only four were dead.
Living recovered turtles are treated in facilities like the one in Galveston, where they are kept in tanks and fed until they are healthy enough to be released.
The Galveston laboratory has experience treating cold-stunned turtles, both from local events and those from afar. In 2014, Galveston was one of 17 zoos and aquariums around the country to receive some of more than 1,000 turtles who were recovered off Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
People who find a cold-stunned turtle on the beach can report it by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5.