It’s a tough time to be a turtle.
As winter cold snaps lowered the temperature of the Gulf waters, many area sea turtles are becoming “cold-stunned.”
The cold water of the bay, which has reached lows of 37 degrees, impacts the metabolism of the cold-blooded turtles, putting them into a hypothermic state and leaving them unable to get to the surface to breathe.
These turtles are in danger of drowning and become susceptible to other illnesses.
All around Gulf County, the Florida Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Gulf World Marine Institute (GWMI) and local volunteers spent the last week pulling these turtles out of the water for rehabilitation.
According to GWMI, the body temperature of the turtles coming in for rehab was between 40-50 degrees and some of the animal’s heart rates were as slow as one beat per minute.
Last week alone GWMI received more than 50 turtles, including several Kemp’s Ridley turtles, which are on the critically endangered species list.
“It’s been a really busy week on the Cape,” said Turtle Patrol volunteer Julia Cunningham. “It’s volunteers and the community pulling together that makes this possible.”
Volunteers in Gulf County have been launching kayaks daily from Scallop Cove, Cape San Blas Inn and the kayak launch at Stump hole to look for cold-stunned turtles floating below the surface.
Once the turtles are pulled from the water, they’re wrapped in blankets and transported to GWMI in Panama City to be slowly warmed and assessed for illness.
Only 16 of the 87 turtles rescued were lost, a good ratio, said Secret Holmes-Douglas, Director of Animal Care & Training at GWMI.
On Tuesday, the 57 turtles rescued from around the county were released into the gulf at Cape Palms Park on St. Joseph Peninsula. They were released into the warm waters on the gulf side to avoid the temperatures of the bay.
Prior to release, the turtles were weighed, measured and tagged.
Six of the turtles were Kemp’s Ridley, while the rest were endangered Greens. Five turtles were transported back to Perdido Key area of Gulf Island National Seashore for release and remained in rehabilitation at GWMI due to medical illness or and injuries.
More than 200 members of the public turned out to witness the sea turtles released.
Holmes-Douglas said that over the next few weeks, they’d find their way back to St. Joe Bay once the waters were warm and they were no longer in danger.