PORT ARANSAS, Texas — The Texas State Aquarium, Amos Rehabilitation Keep (ARK) at UT Marine Science Institute, and Texas Sealife Center combined took in nearly 3,000 total cold-stunned turtles last week. All three organizations started releasing turtles into the Gulf of Mexico Monday.
The Texas State Aquarium teamed up with the U.S. Coast Guard and Texas Parks & Wildlife. The goal Monday was to get the biggest turtles back out into the water.
“We chose the largest turtles, and we’re going to be releasing them with the Coast Guard and the Texas Game Wardens today,” said Melanie Kudra, the Education engagement specialist with the Texas State Aquarium.
Kudra said the size of the turtles limited exactly how many could be released Monday.
“We have some pretty hefty, large turtles today, so they’ve got to fit in the truck and the van in order to get over here. Sometimes with the smaller turtles, we can fit more in a truckload, of course,” she said.
The turtles needed to be released into water that is warm enough to ensure they would not be cold-stunned again after release.
“Our goal is to find water that is 55 degrees Fahrenheit, or higher, to ensure these turtles don’t cold-stun again. So, we will go out as far as we need to to find that good habitat for the turtles,” Kudra said.
After returning from bringing the first group of turtles out to the Gulf, Kudra said they traveled about three to five nautical miles off-shore to release the turtles in a trip that lasted about an hour.
“We were monitoring buoys off-shore, so we knew about where the right water temperature was going to be, we’re always shooting for that 55-degree temperature. The release goes pretty quickly, because those turtles were ready to swim, once we got them off the boat, they swam away really fast,” Kudra said.
The Texas Parks & Wildlife Department was on the water last week helping rescue turtles, and back out Monday to help with the release.
“I think we brought in 100 each day, just in this area. Texas Game Wardens brought nearly 400 rescue turtles in to be warmed up,” said Ben Baker, a Game Warden with Parks & Wildlife. “It was cold, water was cold, but it makes it all worth it once you see the turtles out there today, and how many are alive and being able to be released back into the wild.”
After the record-breaking cold-stunning event, everyone involved in the rescue, rehabilitation, and now release of the turtles is proud of their hard work and involvement in saving the animals.
“It’s really humbling. We’re not the only ones who got turtles, so everyone out there who helped turtles is amazing. So, it’s really kind of like we helped out this species, and without all the people saving these turtles, there would’ve been a detrimental loss to all of them,” said Rylee Gonzales, an Animal Attendant with ARK. “It’s been a lot, but I’m happy, everyone’s tired, and I’m so grateful for everyone here, because we’ve all been doing our best. So, it’s nice to see them all go, I’m excited”
“It’s a great feeling to know we’re able to help that wildlife and help conserve them, especially since all species of sea turtles are endangered or threatened. So, it’s great to make sure we’re able to conserve that species,” Kudra said.