The drop in temps this week has caused cold-stunning
With the temperatures dropping into the 30s, and forecast to fall further as the week progresses, a concern turns to sea turtles dropping in the water.
More specifically, juvenile green turtles, and maybe a Kemp’s Ridley or two, stunned by the falling water temperatures in St. Joseph Bay and rendered immovable.
In fact, the week got off to a rough start, with 12 turtles pulled from the bay on Tuesday and transported to Gulf World in Panama City Beach where they will be slowly warmed and returned to health before being released.
As the week progresses, the fear is that even more turtles will be impacted.
“They really go into something kind of like cryogenics,” said Jessica Swindall, the volunteer coordinator with the St. Joseph Peninsula Turtle Patrol.
“They are cold-blooded so when the water temperature gets too cold they become immobile, unable to move and are at the mercy of the water.”
The past few winters have been fairly mild and cold-stun events have only impacted a handful of turtles each winter.
But as recently at 2014, 260 cold-stunned turtles were rescued, though that number still pales to 2010.
That year, more than 1,700 turtles were pulled from the bay, lined up on the outside deck of the St. Joseph Bay Buffer Preserve Center while awaiting transport to Gulf World.
The problem this week is that the water temperature in the bay is skirting 54 degrees, the benchmark for concerns about cold-stunning, and falling with frigid night temperatures expected to settle around freezing or below the rest of the week.
Given strong winds, the “feels-like” temperatures are even lower.
“And it is not getting much warmer during the day,” Swindall said.
The bay is a full-time home to juvenile green sea turtles getting fat and big on the seagrasses of the bay.
Those turtles have just survived hatching and while instincts will send them to deeper and warmer waters in cold weather, a sudden onset of frigid temperatures makes them vulnerable.
“It is a very important segment of the turtle population,” Swindall said. “They have just survived being hatched and we want to keep them alive and healthy.”
Overall, turtles rescued from a cold-stun event and quickly warmed survive: in 2010 more than 1,600 of the rescued turtles survived.
The St. Joseph Peninsula Turtle Patrol is seeking volunteers to assist in rescuing during the cold-stun event, whether walking or by kayak.
The primary area of focus is the south and southwest end of the bay where wave action tends to carry the turtles. The focus area, broadly, is between Scallop Cove and the Eglin property.
“We walk the shorelines and pick up what turtles we find and get them ready for transport to Gulf World,” Swindall said.
Anyone wishing to volunteer for the rescue effort, either to walk the shoreline or assist in transporting turtles, is asked to contact by text or call Swindall at 205-910-4717.
“In order to most efficiently search for and transport turtles, we ask that you please do not go out on your own without first contacting us,” Swindall said.