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Massive Rescue Efforts Save Thousands Of Sea Turtles Stunned By Texas Cold Snap

Ryan Ford 18 Feb 2021

Just about the only thing Texans don't seem to have a shortage of right now is problems. A historic cold snap and snow storm rocked the state's power grid, leading to widespread outages.

In a state ill prepared for such frigid temperatures, natural gas froze in pipelines, causing homes and apartments to lose heat as well as cutting off supplies to power plants, and many areas — including Houston — had to stop water service and issue boil water advisories.

Images of water frozen in toilets and bathtubs, as well as pipes bursting in apartments, have been spread widely on social media. Store shelves have been emptied, and hospitals have had to evacuate some patients.

It is, in short, a disaster.

The cold snap also threatened some vulnerable populations of wildlife, too, spurring a huge rescue effort.

Plummeting temperatures are particularly dangerous for the state's sea turtles, as cold weather can leave them in a stunned and immobile state, which is especially bad for aquatic animals.

So, Sea Turtle, Inc., a non-profit organization specializing in education, rehabilitation, and conservation of sea turtles based on South Padre Island, put out a call for volunteers to come help save as many of the turtles as they possibly could.

Their call was answered, and then some.

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Since Sunday, the group has rescued more than 4,500 sea turtles.

By boat and on foot, volunteers have been combing beaches and shoals and braving icy waters to rescue the turtles in droves.

"The love and support of people who just want to help things that can't help themselves is overwhelming," Sea Turtle, Inc.'s executive director Wendy Knight told NPR.

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In fact, the rescue has been so successful that the group has needed help from the community just to house all the turtles.

Sea Turtle, Inc.'s facility only has room for about 500 turtles, and it was among the sites without power — until their neighbor, SpaceX, donated a commercial generator. "There are no words to explain the gratitude we have, they came to us in our darkest hour of need," Knight said in a video posted Tuesday.

It's been a real community effort so far, with South Padre Island donating the use of the city's Convention and Visitors Bureau for space. With the Sea Turtle, Inc. facility overflowing, the turtles have been packed into the convention center on tarps and in kiddie pools by the thousand.

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Sea Turtle, Inc. prepares for a cold stun event every year, but of course, 2021 is a year like no other.

Knight called this week "the Armageddon of all cold stuns," NPR reported. "We have exacerbated a once-in-a-few-decade experience by a holdback of the power grid and a holdback of our electric support," she said.

And while the SpaceX and community support has been invaluable, there are still hurdles to overcome. For one thing, the heaters for the facility's large tanks, which house five permanent resident turtles — one of which has a prosthetic fin — and up to 35 sick or injured turtles, were damaged in the outage.

So, while the nonprofit has had to turn away new volunteers, they are seeking financial donations to help fund replacements, while SpaceX's experts help find some temporary solutions.

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It's unclear when it will be safe for the turtles to be returned to the wild.

Obviously, temperatures will have to heat up before it's safe to release the thousands of turtles back into the wild and some of the turtles will need quite a bit of time to recover from the stun. But Knight expects it to be quite a sight when they can finally release all the turtles back to the beaches and the Gulf of Mexico.

h/t: NPR

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