WHAT: Rehabilitated Sea Turtle Release
WHEN: 11 a.m., Saturday, Oct. 11
(The morning that the ABC program “Sea Rescue” features Texas sea turtles rescued by the University of Texas Marine Science Institute)
WHERE: Marker 35 on Mustang Island Beach, Port Aransas, Texas
BACKGROUND: PORT ARANSAS, Texas An uptick in the number of sea turtles needing help to survive along the Gulf Coast of Texas may be linked to changing temperatures in the water there, say scientists at the University of Texas Marine Science Institute. Researchers and animal rehabilitation specialists have gone to heroic lengths during the past year to rescue hundreds of the creatures each weighing up to 120 pounds from freezes and a tumor-related disease that was reported this year for the first time in Texas sea turtles.
“Due to climate change, water in the Gulf of Mexico has been getting warmer over the years, so fewer of our Texas sea turtles, who require a warm temperature, are migrating elsewhere for part of the year the way they used to,” said Tony Amos, research fellow with the Marine Science Institute and director of the Animal Rehabilitation Keep (ARK). “Unfortunately, that also means the turtles can get trapped when the temperature drops. The cold stuns the system, putting these beloved reptiles at risk of shock, pneumonia and even death unless someone steps in to help.”
Amos’ team did just that, and its efforts will be featured on the ABC morning program “Sea Rescue” this Saturday, Oct. 11. The episode highlights the institute’s successful efforts on behalf of 528 turtles last winter.
Additionally, a turtle release will take place Saturday on Mustang Island for turtles recently found to be the first in Texas reported to have fibropapillomatosis, a marine turtle disease that causes tumors and that is more prominent in warmer climates such as Florida and Hawaii.
The institute has a long history of rehabilitation for sea turtles, but it had never served so many at once as it did last winter, with nearly 300 in its care at one time. Over 93 percent of the sea turtles brought in alive were successfully rehabilitated and returned to the wild.
“There were turtles everywhere,” Amos recalls, “with four or five turtles in each one of dozens of kiddie pools throughout the institute’s wet labs and even the hallways. Some of our scientists were sharing lab space with several of the sea turtles.”
The warmer temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico could be the cause of both the change in migratory patterns for the sea turtles and the tumor disease found on turtles in Texas. As cooler weather looms, researchers will keep a sharp eye out for future incidences of turtles needing rescue from the cold and for spread of the disease in new areas.