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Bad Weather for Sea Turtles

How do freezing temperatures affect the endangered green see turtle?

coastal workers help rescue a stunned sea turtle

Photo: Jaclyn Young

Coast guards help rescue this cold stunned sea turtle.

The icy weather that swept a hefty part of the U.S. in January, 2007, sent people running around town to get supplies to prepare their homes.

Being warm-blooded creatures, barely freezing weather doesn’t slow us humans down too terribly. Luckily, our bodies have the nifty capacity to generate their own heat.

On South Padre Island, Texas, what local weather coverage called an arctic blast demonstrated just how different the effects of freezing temperatures are on cold-blooded creatures such as the endangered green sea turtle.

When the water temperature in part of the Gulf of Mexico fell into the fifties, over three dozen young sea turtles washed ashore.

Being cold-blooded, their body temperatures dropped with the temperature of the water. As a result, their body functions shut down to the point that they were comatose. This condition was dangerous enough in and of itself for the already endangered sea turtles, but made worse by the threat of predators eager to take advantage of the turtles’ vulnerability.

Lucky for the turtles, volunteers swathed them in blankets and towels. They were scrubbed clean and revived under heat lamps until they opened their eyes and moved their flippers. They were then moved to water tanks kept at a much more comfortable 66 to 68 degrees. They were released once the weather reports looked favorable for their survival.

The turtles will feed on turtle grass in shallow bays around areas like South Padre Island until they mature to about 15 to 20 years old, weighing in at a whopping five hundred pounds or so. Then they’ll return to the coast of Yucatan, Mexico, where they were born, so that they can produce the next generation of green sea turtles.

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