PADRE ISLAND, Texas - Another 1,700 sea turtles were released back into Gulf waters off the South Texas coast on Tuesday following a record-setting storm that pummeled the state and cold-stunned thousands of the endangered or threatened creatures.
When the water dips below 50 degrees, turtles become incapacitated and risk drowning from being unable to lift their heads to breathe, experts said. Community members showed up in the thousands last week to help various rescue groups bring the comatose turtles to safety.
"We would like to thank everyone that assisted with the rescue efforts with the cold-stunned sea turtles during this week," the Padre Island NS Division of Sea Turtle Science & Recovery said in a Facebook post. "Because of your tireless efforts, these turtles got a second chance of life."
A recent winter freeze overwhelmed the state’s power grid, cutting off electricity and heat to nearly 4 million customers in a storm that’s poised to cost insurance companies billions of dollars. More than 1 million people remain under water-boil notices 10 days after the blackout started and at least 40 people have died.
Earlier this week, Sea Turtle Inc. announced a fundraiser to help with the overwhelming task at hand. Within 3 hours it garnered more than $10,000. Days later, the nonprofit rehab center was able to release 2,200 previously cold-stunned turtles to their natural habitat over the weekend.
"We are rejuvenated with passion," Sea Turtle Inc. wrote in a tweet. "Thank you for your patience while we worked tirelessly overnight to get this done."
The efforts faced some challenges. They, like millions of residents trying to stay warm during the unusually bitter cold, lost power. SpaceX, which has a nearby launch site, donated a large generator to help thaw the turtles. About 500 were treated on the Sea Turtle Inc. campus and thousands more recovered at a nearby convention center.
Leading their own efforts, the Texas State Aquarium successfully released 1,000 turtles after unloading five truckloads of rehabilitated reptiles on Tuesday.
"It took a village to save the thousands of turtles affected by this event, and we are very proud to be part of the numerous organizations along the South Texas Coast that came together to assist in this major conservation effort," aquarium officials wrote in a Facebook post.
Additionally, The Amos Rehabilitation Keep at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute rescued about 1,200 sea turtles, and they too have been slowly releasing packs of healthy ones.
Between the three organizations, more than 7,000 turtles were rescued. For perspective, Sea Turtle Inc. said it has protected 1,800 cold-stunned turtles over the past decade.