PORT ARANSAS, Texas — The Southern Responder backed into the channel and settled at Gulf Copper’s dock between two oil platforms. In a couple of hours, the blue and white oil-spill response vessel would be loaded with green sea turtles. It would then sail some 20 miles into the Gulf of Mexico, where the reptiles would be set free.
The turtles had spent a week rehabilitating at the Texas State Aquarium’s facility in Corpus Christi. They were fitted with microchips in their left front flippers, swim tested, and declared ready for re-entry to their natural habitat.
“The guys that are hydrated and feisty and active and have a good body condition — we’re pushing those guys out today,” said aquarium veterinarian Tim Tristan.
Only a few of several hundred being kept at the aquarium’s rehab facility didn’t make the trip to Port Aransas for release.
The crew of the Southern Responder has had a busy week: Monday, it was transporting hundreds of turtles out to deeper waters from Port Isabel. Today, hundreds more from Corpus Christi. Between the National Parks Service, the Texas State Aquarium, Animal Rehabilitation Keep at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute and other South Texas entities, it is estimated that 8,000 turtles were plucked from the icy waters after a record cold snap left them cold-stunned.
“We’re estimating that half will survive,” said Donna Shaver, Texas Coordinator of the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network.
Texas State Aquarium Senior Vice President Jesse Gilbert acknowledges the coordinated effort between the aquarium, the Texas Sea Life Center, The ARK, NOAA and the National Parks Service is part of what made the project run so smoothly.
“It has been a remarkable effort by volunteers and marine workers and all of us who care for these animals,” said Gilbert. “The Marine Spill Response Corporation deserves a special shout-out for donating the vessel today, as does Gulf Copper for letting us use the dock.”