Record Number of Turtles Saved from Cold

The Takeaway: More than 900 cold-stunned sea turtles were rescued and treated, thanks to quick mobilization by Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve staff members and volunteers.

In February 2021, during one of the most extreme Texas cold snaps in 30 years, rapid responders by boat and on foot endured atmospheric temperatures that plunged to 28° Fahrenheit to rescue and treat more than 900 cold-stunned sea turtles near the Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve. Since that event, 850 sea turtles have been released, as local marine waters have warmed enough to prevent a secondary stunning event. Staff members of the reserve at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute joined with volunteers to mobilize quickly and carry out this record-breaking sea turtle rescue operation.

Over twenty recently rescued sea turtles of various sizes resting in a facility in Texas.
During a record cold snap in Texas, staff members from the Mission-Aransas Research Reserve helped rescue these turtles that warmed up and recovered in an overflow facility. Photo Credit: Jace Tunnell

When coastal water temperatures drop below 50° Fahrenheit, sea turtles become “cold stunned,” experiencing lethargy and lowered circulation and heart rates. Without intervention, these animals are in danger of shock, pneumonia, and death. This winter storm, which affected several states, represents the largest U.S. cold stunning event since at least 1980, when recordings of sea turtle strandings began.

As sea water tanks quickly filled with stunned turtles at the Amos Rehabilitation Keep, a heated auditorium in the Patton Marine Science Education Center was used as an overflow facility to treat about 700 of the turtles. The Amos Rehabilitation Keep is part of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute, which also manages the Mission-Aransas Research Reserve. In total, 12,865 sea turtles were stranded in Texas during February 2021, which is the highest sea turtle stranding in the U.S.

The transport and release of the treated turtles, 20 miles offshore, was made possible by the Port Aransas Fisherman’s Wharf, which donated two vessels for the effort. (2021)

More Information: Turtle Rescue Story and Video

Partners: Amos Rehabilitation Keep, Mission-Aransas National Estuarine Research Reserve, Port Aransas Fisherman’s Wharf, University of Texas Marine Science Institute