January 19, 2007

Sea Turtles Are Rescued From Texas Cold

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas -- At least three dozen sea turtles are getting a little vacation under heat lamps in this spring-break capital after being rescued from an arctic blast that caused the water temperature in an arm of the Gulf of Mexico to plummet 18 degrees in 48 hours.

The cold-blooded animals were left comatose by the rapid temperature drop this week in the shallow bay where the young turtles feed. Animal rescuers feared the cold would kill the turtles or make them so sluggish as to be vulnerable to sharks.

Volunteers, students and others scooped them up from the surf, bundled them in blankets and towels and took them to the privately run Sea Turtle Inc. rescue center and a University of Texas marine laboratory.

The juvenile green turtles were scrubbed clean of grime, then put under a heat lamp until their eyes opened and their flippers twitched - signs they were reviving and ready to be put in 66- to 68-degree holding tanks and feed on romaine lettuce.

Green turtles are born off the coast of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and spend their early years feeding on turtle grass in shallow bay areas such as South Padre's Laguna Madre. When they are mature - 15 to 20 years old and weighing about 500 pounds - they return to Mexican waters to breed.

But a cold spell that sent the mercury plummeting into the 30s on Monday and Tuesday caused the water temperature to fall into the 50s. The turtles' systems began shutting down, and they started washing ashore.

Robert Banard, a volunteer who found the first turtles with his wife, said the turtles were anywhere from three to 65 pounds and were almost immobile.

Each turtle was named by the volunteer who found it. Laurie, a 15-pounder, had lost a flipper, the result of a predator trying to take advantage of her lethargy.

The last time it got cold enough for turtles to wash up was in December 2004, when the Rio Grande Valley had its first white Christmas in memory. The last such operation before that was the 1980s, Sea Turtle curator Jeff George said.

With another cold front expected, George said the turtles would be there at least a week.


On the Net: http://www.seaturtleinc.com