The winter storms in Texas have been catastrophic to all walks of life found in the region. Widespread power outages have left many struggling to keep warm and the incredulity of it all even has some people claiming the snow is fake. Sudden cold snaps are bad news for wildlife too as species seasonal behaviors no longer match up with the weather on a planet in the midst of a climate crisis.
Turtles were one such hard-hit group of animals as freezing weather can stun and even kill them. They were scooped up in their thousands as the winter storm that spread across Texas and other southern states left them near-lifeless on the frosty coastline. Temperatures dipped as low as -18ºC (0ºF) in some areas, spelling disaster for cold-blooded species which quickly become lethargic even in cool weather. Without their wits about them, they are at increased risk of being predated on or finding themselves on the receiving end of a boat's propeller, so it’s unsurprising that so many were rescued in such a sorry state.
There is a silver lining to this cloud, however, as the tremendous efforts of wildlife teams and volunteers successfully revived and rehabilitated many of the rescued animals. “Texas Sealife Center has processed 800-1,000 sea turtles through our doors,” naturalist Jamie McWilliams of the Cape Ann Whale Watch told IFLScience. “Once the main expressways reopened, we transferred many animals to Texas State Aquarium's rescue team to make more room at our facility for the next group of turtles.”
The devastating impact cold weather can have on these animals means the Texas Sealife Center alongside many other organizations is equipped with a plan of action when cold stun events are declared. Turtles are retrieved by foot and on boats and taken to a rehabilitation center where they are treated much like a hypothermic human. They are temporarily kept out of the water in temperature-controlled areas so they can slowly warm up and then released into recovery pools a day later.
“They undergo a swim test, prior to release,” continued McWilliams. “In order for a turtle to be medically cleared for release by our veterinarian, Dr Tim Tristan, they must be able to dive, settle to the bottom of the pool and remain active. Upon passing veterinary health clearance and the swim test, turtles were then released offshore, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) into the Gulf of Mexico in warm water, where the temperature is more stable.”
This is where the fun bit begins, as the Texas Sealife Center took to the ocean to release over 200 sea turtles with the aid of a slip n’ slide. The subsequent joyous footage shows the turtles taking a quick slip and deep dip as they splosh back into the ocean. They might not have a clue what’s going on as they speed towards the waves but the abrupt return to the wild is surely a welcome sight for a group of animals that are likely ready to put the recent traumatic series of events well behind them
While remarkable, McWilliams highlights that the work isn’t done yet. “Even with getting a large majority of turtles back into the wild, we still have 75 juvenile green sea turtles at our facility who require additional rehabilitation for various injuries. Our organization is completely run by donations and volunteers. Donations are still needed to help us care for the remaining patients who will be requiring surgeries and antibiotics.”
If you want to help to get the final flippers back in the sea you can donate here to fund ongoing medical care for turtles that aren’t yet strong enough to return to the wild.