CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Monday, the Texas State Aquarium brought in 20 sea turtles that were a part of a cold-stunning event in Massachusetts.
The aquarium was reached out to by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration New England/Mid-Atlantic Region for help. The NOAA has seen its third largest cold-stunning season, with just under 700 sea turtles affected so far. 120 turtles were sent to seven facilities in Texas Monday, with around 350 turtles total having been sent to facilities across the country in recent weeks.
Turtles Fly Too flew the turtles from Boston to Texas. This event was the first time Turtles Fly Too had made a trip to Texas, and the first time the Texas State Aquarium brought animals from as far away as New England for rehabilitation.
“Cold-stunnings aren’t unique to us in Texas, but these animals have been cold for a long time, so they come with a bit different of a medical case, they’ve got more chronic issues; pneumonia, they might have so bacterial infections. So, it’s a little bit more intensive of a process than we’re used to from a Texas cold-stunning standpoint, but the animals are doing well, they’ve been here for two days, some of them have started to eat, they’re warming up, we’re continuing to do medical exams, making sure they get the right medication. So far, we’re encouraged by the progress we’ve seen over two days,” said Jesse Gilbert, the Vice President of Operations for the Texas State Aquarium.
Gilbert said around 20-25 people were involved the night the turtles came in to Corpus Christi, to help transport, examine, and care for the turtles.
18 of the 20 turtles brought to the aquarium are Kemp’s Ridley turtles, which, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, are a critically endangered species.
“It’s the most endangered of sea turtle in the world, so even one of these animal matters when the population is that small. They probably haven’t eaten in days, maybe weeks at this point, so cold-stunning is a traumatic event for them, particularly up there when it’s long,” Gilbert said.
According to Gilbert, all Kemp’s Ridley turtles are hatched along the Gulf Coast in Texas and Mexico, and getting them back in the wild is the goal of the aquarium staff.
“It’s core to the aquarium’s mission of rescuing wild animals, and preserving wildlife,” he said about the aquarium helping. “We hope to get them back in the water in the next two to three months.”
The aquarium will soon have a new facility to help in its pursuit of animal conservation and wildlife rescue. Recently, the Port of Corpus Christi provided the aquarium with a $2.5 million grant that will go towards a facility that will be built on aquarium property.
“The Port has been a strong, strong supporter of the aquarium, and in particular our Wildlife Rescue program, for really the last 30 years,” said Texas State Aquarium CEO Tom Schmid.
The facility will be located on the land between the aquarium and the USS Lexington. The aquarium needs to raise around $6 million more to fund the facility, and hopes it will be finished in mid-2022.
Once the facility is opened, the aquarium will be able to conduct work related to its Wildlife Rescue program on-site.
“We’ll be able to really design it specifically for our needs for the needs of our veterinarians, our animal care specialists, I think that’s really important,” Schmid said.
The facility will be open to the public to visit, and people will be able to see the work the aquarium does pertaining to wildlife rescue, as well as learn ways to help in conservation efforts.
“At the end of the day, our mission is really about wildlife conservation, and particularly species that are found in the Gulf of Mexico. Shore birds, water birds, birds of prey, river otters, dolphins, and certainly sea turtles, these are all very important species to the Gulf of Mexico, and to the Texas State Aquarium. So, having this comprehensive center where we can treat all those kinds of animals and more, really is such an important asset for this community, and it’s such an important part of our mission,” Schmid said.