More than a hundred sea turtles have been set free by volunteers off the North Carolina coast, after being successfully treated for hypothermia.
On a yearly basis, around two hundred sea turtles wash up on the shores of North Carolina during the winter, being cold-stunned, weakened and famished.
Given that these reptiles usually prefer warmer waters, from tropical and subtropical regions, they usually migrate south as winter approaches.
However, as global warming has become more and more pronounced in recent years, the animals have delayed this trek that ensures their survival, tricked by unusually high temperatures.
That’s how many of them have been falling prey to a phenomenon known as cold-stunning. This occurs when winter sets in abruptly, causing temperatures to plummet under 50 degrees Fahrenheit and catching sea turtles completely off guard.
Given the fact that such marine species are normally ectotherms (cold blooded), being completely dependent on external sources of heat in order to warm themselves and regulate their body temperature, when exposed to freezing cold temperatures they can’t adjust and function normally.
Instead, they experience hypothermia symptoms, such as lethargy, accelerated pulse and reduced blood flow.
As their condition worsens, they develop pneumonia or paralysis, and many of them are left at the mercy of the waves, wind, boats and potential predators, drifting off and washing up on the beach, where they usually meet their death.
It appears that this year the number of such stranded creatures is worse than ever, as more than a thousand sea turtles have already been found captive on North Carolina’s beaches.
In response, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission has begun an extensive rescue mission, aided by volunteers from the U.S Coast Guard Cutter Cushing, an island-class patrol board.
The cold-stunned sea turtles were taken to a veterinary clinic where they have been undergoing a lengthy process of rehabilitation.
Now that wildlife experts have determined that some of the reptiles have already made a full recovery, they have started to release them back into warmer waters.
Around 130 such marine animals were set free in the Gulf Stream, near North Carolina’s shore, given the fact that in this region water temperatures are believed to be between 68 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. While some of the reptiles were transported for just around 15 to 20 miles, others had to make lengthier journeys, across 4 states.
As explained by marine turtle specialist Matthew Godfrey, a group of approximately 300 sea turtles were driven from North Carolina to South Carolina, then to Georgia, and finally to Florida.
Following their arrival, they were eventually discharged back near Washington Oaks Garden State Park, whose beaches overlook the Atlantic Ocean and the Matanzas River.
According to Erin Weeks, a representative of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, several hundred of sea turtles are still being kept in North Carolina aquariums at the moment, as they recover from hypothermia, alongside other injuries and ailments.
The vast majority of them are green sea turtles (scientifically known as chelonia mydas), a species which is considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Others are Kemp’s ridley turtles and loggerhead sea turtles, both of which are also on the brink of extinction.
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