Texas State Aquarium Celebrated the Holidays Saving Hundreds of Sea Turtles

February 16, 2023

The holidays looked a little different for several Texas State Aquarium (TSA) staff members, wildlife rescue and conservation partners, advocates, and volunteers around the Coastal Bend. With temperatures dropping below freezing just two days before Christmas, alerts of an imminent sea turtle cold stunning event were spread to the public. The goal was the same for everyone, save as many endangered sea turtles as possible.

“Saving endangered species is critical and a big part of the Aquarium’s mission,” said Texas State Aquarium President and Chief Executive Officer Jesse Gilbert. “According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are more than 700 endangered or threatened animal species in the United States and we are doing our part to conserve and save as many as we can. Responding to the emergency and educating the community is a big part of it.”

On December 23rd, a cold front dropped temperatures in South Texas below freezing. When water and air temperatures drop rapidly in shallow bays and estuaries such as the Laguna Madre, sea turtles become lethargic and unable to swim.

Since December 20th, the Aquarium’s wildlife rescue and operations teams began preparing emergency pools for a potential influx of cold-stunned sea turtles. The Aquarium joined forces with Padre Island National Seashore (PAIS) and set up a communications plan to educate the community about what to do if they encounter cold stunned sea turtles. Since December 22nd, social media posts educating and alerting the community about the cold stunning event were posted and shared hundreds of times from the Aquarium and the PAIS social media platforms.

From the late hours of Christmas Eve through December 27th, the Texas State Aquarium Wildlife Rescue Team admitted 300 cold-stunned green sea turtles to its Wildlife Rescue Program. Upon the sea turtle’s arrival, the Wildlife Rescue Team and staff assessed their health and promptly started treatment for cold-stunning.

Aquarium staff created an emergency rehabilitation pool made of a repurposed dam flood control system to accommodate the turtles. These green sea turtles were housed next to the remaining loggerhead sea turtles that TSA has cared for since July.

After just a few days of round-the-clock treatment, the sea turtles regained enough strength and were cleared for release. On Thursday, December 29th, the Aquarium released 257 rehabilitated green sea turtles back into the Gulf of Mexico. The Aquarium also released 8 loggerhead sea turtles, 6 of which have been under TSA’s care since July of 2022. The sea turtle release took place at Padre Balli Park in front of beachgoers who witnessed this special moment.

This latest sea turtle stranding event shows the importance of having an adequate space that can respond to wildlife emergencies of this nature. The Aquarium is excited that in just 8 weeks, the grand opening of the 26,000 sq ft new Port of Corpus Christi Center for Wildlife Rescue will take place. This facility will be crucial for wildlife conservation efforts and will open to the public in March 2023. To read more about the upcoming Rescue Center, please visit: Wildlife Rescue Center – Texas State Aquarium.

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