Endangered turtles rescued by volunteers

Volunteers in Texas’s South Padre Island paired up with Sea Turtle, Inc in an effort to save thousands of frozen sea turtles.

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Mitchel Lensink

Volunteers rescued endangered turtles affected by winter storm Uri.

Margaux Barrett, Staff Writer

Floating above the water along the coastline of Texas’s South Padre Island, thousands of frozen endangered sea turtles were rescued this past February by volunteers.

The volunteers, working with the island’s local turtle rescue organization Sea Turtle, Inc., discovered the turtles after the dramatic drop in temperature caused them to go into hypothermic shock.

As a result, the animals were left comatose and paralyzed. Not only could this damage the turtles’ internal functions, but it left them vulnerable to predators, boats and drowning.

Thankfully, the Sea Turtle, Inc. and its volunteers were able to respond quickly to the situation, transporting over 3,500 comatose turtles to the South Padre Island Convention Center for rehabilitation.

There they worked tirelessly to raise the frozen turtles’ body heat while the animals rested on kiddie pools and large tarps.

Unfortunately, it became evident they did not have enough volunteers to help the overwhelming amount of turtles. In an ordinary year, the organization would expect to help a couple dozen to a hundred turtles that had fallen victim to cold spells.

But this storm— like much of this year— was not ordinary. To make matters worse, the storm left the volunteers with no power, making it harder to thaw and rehabilitate the copious number of the endangered species.

“It’s unprecedented. 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 unique, more catastrophic challenges to our efforts,” said Wendy Knight, the executive director of Sea Turtle, Inc.

Because of these alarming circumstances, the volunteers called in for help across the island, getting a large majority of people involved in the animal rescue mission.

People all across the island gathered with their cars and boats ready to transport as many turtles as possible to the South Padre Island Convention Center.

Gina McLellan, a retired professor and longtime volunteer, said, “It is a huge, huge community effort. 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.”

Currently, the turtles are being treated with the utmost care in the comfort of warm generators and insulation.

Some, due to the gradual return of power to the area a month later, are even able to begin the releasing process back into the wild. However, Knight believes the turtles will only be able to receive the full scope of care necessary once Texas’s power is fully restored.