More than 90 Green Sea Turtles that were rescued last week after suffering from cold-stun were safely released to warmer waters off North Padre Island Wednesday afternoon.
These beautiful turtles, ranging in size from 6 pounds to a whopping 70 pounds, called Moody Gardens home since last week following a dramatic drop in temperatures that left the turtles stranded in East Matagorda Bay, about 100 miles southwest of Galveston.
In all, nearly 300 Green Sea Turtles were rescued along a five-mile stretch of the bay. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) led the rehabilitation mission. With an animal holding facility, complete with large holding tanks, Moody Gardens was happy to partner with NOAA to offer a home, and rehabilitation, for the turtles until it was time for their release.
NOAA released about 75 turtles off North Padre Island Tuesday with another 200 released Wednesday. Some turtles will remain at NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Lab here on Galveston Island until they are well enough to be released back into the wild.
Officials chose North Padre Island, just south of Corpus Christi, as the release site so that the turtles will enter warmer waters. Another cold front is expected to hit the Galveston area this Friday, and the goal is to release the turtles into warmer waters before that happens. The cold front shouldn’t impact North Padre Island and the surrounding area.
Green Sea Turtles feed on sea grasses found in the shallow bay waters. They were in the East Matagorda Bay area last week when temperatures dropped to freezing, leaving them cold-stunned and unable to retreat to warmer waters. Cold-stun can happen when water temperatures drop to 50 degrees. When that happens, the turtle’s metabolism shuts down and they respond by expanding their lungs and floating to the top of the water. Doing so can further expose them as they let cooler air into their lungs. Unable to swim, many are pushed up to the shoreline.
Turtles were triaged as they were rescued. They were measured, weighed and checked for any abnormalities and wounds. Those deemed healthy were sent to Moody Gardens while those who were wounded were cared for NOAA’s fisheries lab.
Staff and volunteers cleaned turtles, scrubbing off algae, debris, grime, barnacles, and in some cases even oysters. Tags were attached to the turtles’ front flippers. Internal tags were also placed so that the animals can be tracked in the future, if needed.
Moody Gardens’ mission has always focused on conserving natural spaces and resources. Looking at the natural habitat around Moody Gardens, sea turtles are probably one of the highest profile species that live in our native waters and are in need of our help.