Winter water temperatures at Cape Cod and along the Eastern seaboard are known to catch a few “dawdling” sea turtle youngsters off guard each year. If they fail to beat flippers toward Florida soon enough, the consequences can be dire. It’s called “cold stunning,” and since mid-November, 1200 sea turtles, mostly Kemp’s ridleys, have washed ashore (“stranded”) along the beaches of Cape Cod Bay. Valiant efforts of professionals and scores of volunteers have saved most, but three hundred have died or were found dead.
Sea turtles are reptiles, so when the water cools below their ability to adapt, they become the equivalent of floating ice cubes. It’s no joke, though. Their vital systems drop so low they can’t eat, swim, avoid predators, or fight off infections, like pneumonia.
As reported in today’s New York Times, “the usual trickle (of cold-stunned turtles) has turned into a flood.” According to ClicktoHouston.com, fifty Kemp’s ridleys were transported to Galveston’s Sea Turtle Hospital for treatment. Some went on to the Houston Zoo.
By 2010, decades of conservation efforts had increased Kemp’s ridley nests to the highest level since 1985. I visited Padre Island National Seashore that year to watch the first hatchling scramble to the sea after the Gulf oil spill. Sadly, nesting success rates for the Kemp’s ridley have declined since. Every turtle saved now resets the clock, shifting this smallest and most endangered of sea turtles again onto the path away from extinction. We can all help.
The Massachusetts Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary is working around the clock and the sheer number of rescued turtles has stretched resources big time. If you want to donate supplies or funds, that would be terrific. If you also pass this call through your social networking–and in-person–pipelines, so others can help, you are one, fabulous turtle angel!