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ARK reopens in Port A, saves turtles

Nicole Pringle, volunteer coordinator at the Amos Rehabilitation Keep in Port Aransas, holds a cold-stunned green sea turtle while education specialist Amanda Taylor reads off the PIT tag identification number. A major cold-stun event occurred Jan. 2. Close to 250 green sea turtles were brought to the Amos Rehabilitation Keep. Courtesy photo

A frigid cold front stunned almost 400 sea turtles in the Coastal Bend, 250 of which were rehabilitated at the Amos Rehabilitation Keep in Port Aransas. ARK reopened the day of the cold snap, Jan. 5, after its own rehabilitation following damage from Hurricane Harvey in August 2017. All the turtles were released into the Gulf of Mexico on Jan. 7 after recovering.

ARK is part of the University of Texas Marine Science Institute in Port Aransas. UTMSI is the first marine research laboratory founded in Texas. It rehabs turtles and shorebirds with the goal of returning them to the wild.

Sea turtle troubles begin anytime water temperatures drop below 60 degrees. Heart rates decrease along with circulation. Turtles become lethargic, followed by shock, pneumonia and even death. Water temperatures at 50 degrees are almost always fatal.

Warming waters in the Gulf of Mexico have made it a year-round home for sea turtles, which leaves them vulnerable during the few cold days. That’s where ARK comes in, along with its partners, the Padre Island National Seashore Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, SeaWorld, the Texas State Aquarium, the Texas Sealife Center and the Mission-Aransas Reserve.

The most important assistance comes from the hundreds of volunteers who brave cold temperatures along the coastline and in the bays and estuaries rescuing cold-stunned turtles.

Beachgoers and anglers who are not trained in marine wildlife rescue are asked to call (866) TURTLE-5 when they find a troubled turtle.

Trained volunteers will collect the turtles and take them to the nearest rehabilitation facility. They are placed in kiddie pools, where they are gradually warmed up. After only a few days, they can be returned to the Gulf of Mexico. In the Coastal Bend, most turtle releases are public and held at the Padre Island National Seashore.

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