Coastal Studies Lab houses 300 turtles during cold snap
While the most of the Valley was huddled from the cold, the University of Texas-Pan American Coastal Studies Laboratory was hosting some special visitors: cold-stunned sea turtles. The arrival of twenty-five cold-stunned turtles from Boca Chica on Thursday morning indicated this cold-snap would be serious for the turtle population of the Lower Laguna Madre.
“That was a lot of turtles from a fairly small area,” Don Hockaday, Research and Education Coordinator said. “We had not yet placed all of them before more arrived, and they were being brought in a half-dozen or more at a time. By Thursday night we had 150 to 200 turtles and the causeway had been closed to traffic. Turtles found on the mainland shores during the time of causeway closing were taken to Gladys Porter Zoo and the Laguna Atascosa.” Altogether, about 860 turtles were salvaged, with over 700 surviving.
Sea Turtle Inc. on South Padre Island manages these event in coordination with the state office of Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network at Padre Island National Seashore at Corpus Christi. In the past, stranded turtles were housed and processed at Sea Turtle Inc, but the CSL would house overflow. Hockaday said, “Last time, there were so many it was almost all overflow at the CSL, so we agreed that the CSL would be the receiving and primary processing unit in the future. Sea Turtle Inc volunteers handled retrieval, transport, processing, and release.” Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists, Texas Coastal Naturalist volunteers, National Seashore biologists, and the staff of Laguna Atascosa and Gladys Porter Zoo also participated.
Except for about 50 turtles that were transported from Gladys Porter Zoo to Corpus Christi, all the turtles passed through the CSL. Trained volunteers weighed, measured, numbered, and evaluated each turtle. Living turtles were placed on mats or blankets on the floors of the two large labs, the classroom, two small labs, and both bathrooms. Those that were beginning to stir were placed in kiddie pools in the public display area. By Sunday morning, most of the turtles started to become active and the National Marine Fisheries Service authorized their release. The 250 live turtles at the CSL were injected with PIT (Passive Integrated Transponder) tags and released in the surf in front of the CSL. Then other turtles were brought through from the other holding facilities, tagged and released.
Monday 7 Feb 2011
Over the last few days, we have had about 810 cold stunned sea turtles processed at the CSL out of a total of 860 for our region. About 110 were dead when found or died overnight. Most of those that lived were released into the surf in front of the CSL yesterday. We have twenty-five left at the CSL; they are all in CSL-110 in kiddie-pools and will be released tomorrow around mid-day.
Beginning on Friday morning, volunteers brought live and dead stranded turtles to the CSL, Sea Turtle Inc., Gladys Porter Zoo & Laguna Atascosa NWR. All were numbered, weighed, and measured. Some were tagged (Monel cattle-ear tags) and about a third were biopsied for genetic data. By Sunday morning, we had a 200-250 live turtles at the CSL on floors in the larger lab (CSL-110), the break-room, both bathrooms, and one small lab. Additional live turtles were in kiddie pools in the smaller teaching lab (CSL-116) and the public display area. Some kiddie pools were for isolation of turtles with fibropapillomas.
NOAA approved releasing recovered and active turtles into the surf. With the exception of fifty turtles that had been transferred to Corpus Christi directly from Gladys Porter Zoo, all the salvaged turtles (alive and dead) in the area were processed through the CSL on Sunday. All live turtles were injected with PIT tags. Almost all were then released into the surf in front of the CSL. About ten injured turtles will be rehabilitated at Sea Turtle Inc and twenty-five are still at the CSL.
All dead turtles were processed at the CSL. About half were transported to Corpus yesterday for necropsy, and remainder were picked up this morning.
There were probably 150 volunteers working on these turtles not counting some beachgoers who pitched in during the releases. Volunteers cleaned up the lab. Either Les Sweeten or I were at the CSL for nearly the entire time anybody else was here.