Coast Guardsmen with U.S. Coast Guard Station Fort Macon and staff from the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores released 21 rehabilitated, cold-stunned sea turtles into warmer water 21 miles off the coast Thursday.
The mix of loggerhead, green and Kemp’s ridley sea turtles were cared for by aquarists at North Carolina Aquariums at Pine Knoll Shores and Fort Fisher since one of the cold snaps last year. The Aquariums partnered with the local Coast Guard unit to conduct the release.
“We greatly appreciate any assistance we receive. We especially value the partnership we have with the local coast guard units,” said Michele Lamping, an aquarist and sea turtle specialist. “The more rehabilitated turtles we can get released frees up room for more cold-stunned turtles needing care. It would not be possible to care for as many turtles as we do without their ability to transport large numbers of cold-stuns off shore on short notice.”
The partnership is built on a shared mission to protect living marine resources, which include management and conservation of endangered and protected species.
“The station crew was privileged to be a part of the sea turtle release today. Our partnering with the North Carolina Aquarium was a great example of cooperation between organizations to accomplish our common goal as we continue our efforts to protect these animals,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Carter Seigh, a Hyde Park, New York native and officer in charge. “Our crew really enjoyed this unique opportunity, and we especially enjoyed learning about these fascinating creatures from the Aquarium staff.”
Sea turtles are cold blooded, which means their body temperature is determined by their surroundings.
Normally when a turtle senses the changing temperature, it heads for warmer waters, said John Mauser, an aquarist taking care of the turtles. However, if they do not leave or if the temperature drops quickly they become lethargic and unable to swim or fend for themselves.
The sudden drop in water temperatures in December led to a number of cold-stunned sea turtles needing rescue and rehabilitation.
Once the turtles are healthy again and have a final veterinary check they are ready to be released. They are taken offshore to warmer waters. The crew was tasked with finding temperatures as close to 60 degrees as possible. The water temperature the day of the release was 62 degrees.
“If you see a turtle in the water or on the beach this time of year that is not moving or is sluggish, then it is probably cold stunned,” said Mauser, who added that beachgoers should not touch or move the turtle, but rather call the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission.
The effort to rescue and rehabilitate sea turtles is led by the Commission, which collaborates with a number of federal, state and private organizations in the effort.
In addition to the Coast Guard units, the North Carolina Aquariums and Jennette’s Pier work with many agencies across the east coast, such as the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles, North Carolina State University Center for Marine Sciences and Technology and College of Veterinary Medicine, Cape Lookout National Seashore, Cape Hatteras National Seashore, Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center.
Each of the North Carolina Aquariums have sea turtles currently in their care. The Aquarium on Roanoke Island has 53 turtles at its STAR Center, and the Aquarium at Fort Fisher has one green and one loggerhead sea turtles. These numbers are constantly changing.
If there are concerns about a turtle, please contact the Commission’s North Carolina Sea Turtle Project at 252-728-1828 or N.E.S.T. at 252-441-8622.