January 2010 Statewide Sea Turtle Cold-Stunning Event

The FWC is involved in a massive statewide effort to rescue sea turtles affected by the recent cold weather in Florida.

The unusually long spell of cold weather in Florida has had a big impact on sea turtles. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) has been working with staff from county, state, and federal agencies as well as numerous volunteers on a mass rescue effort for sea turtles throughout the state. More than 3,000 sea turtles have been rescued so far and have been taken to various facilities throughout the state.

What is the FWC doing to rescue and protect cold-stunned sea turtles?
FWC officers and partners bring a cold-stunned sea turtle into the triage area at Merritt Island National Wildlife RefugeOnce the FWC receives a report of a cold-stunned sea turtle, staff members coordinate with local sea turtle volunteers and facilities to survey the shoreline and bay waters looking for sea turtles that have become stranded or that are floating at the surface, unable to move. Under the direction of the area's FWC Sea Turtle Stranding Coordinator, animals are collected and transferred to a central location. The turtles are then placed in a covered vehicle and transferred to an appropriate facility where they are examined by veterinarians and other FWC-permitted staff who have experience working with sick or injured sea turtles.

What will happen next?
Once the cold-stunned turtle begins to revive, it is placed in warm salt water to bring its body temperature back to normal. Each animal is thoroughly examined for injuries, and is measured, weighed, and tagged with a unique identification number. Rescued sea turtles are released back into the wild as quickly as possible. This occurs either by transporting them south along the coast to warmer water or by transferring them offshore to deeper, warmer water. In the Panhandle, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Navy have transported sea turtles offshore to warm water for release.

How can I help?
Citizens who spot cold-stunned or stranded sea turtles should contact the FWC Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922).

Who is helping out?
FWC staff members are working with a network of partners from other state and federal agencies, local governments, and volunteer sea turtle groups to find and rescue cold-stunned sea turtles. FWC Law Enforcement and NOAA Fisheries staff members have searched the shallow waters from air boats and small vessels. Staff members from federal and state agencies have also spent days in the frigid temperatures scanning the waters and marshes along the shoreline for sea turtles. Many commercial and non-profit organizations have donated vehicles or materials necessary to move sea turtles out of the cold and into warmer areas, under the direction of FWC Sea Turtle Program staff.

Florida facilities that hold sea turtles for educational display have been incredibly helpful in rescuing and reviving cold-stunned sea turtles on all Florida shorelines. These facilities have donated space and staff time so that the sea turtles can be safely retrieved and warmed. Private citizens have also contributed to this rescue effort, donating their time, vehicles, and vessels.

The FWC would like to thank all those involved for their efforts with this cold-stunning event.

Additional Information
To learn more about cold-stunning in sea turtles, please see the article Cold-Stunning of Florida's Sea Turtles.

Journal articles about sea turtle cold-stunning events

Characteristics of a green turtle (Chelonia mydas) assemblage in northwestern Florida determined during a hypothermic stunning event 
Authors: Foley, A.M.; Singel, K.E.; Dutton, P.H. Summers, T.M.; Redlow, A.E.; Lessman, J.
Year: 2007
Source: Gulf of Mexico Science, v.2, p.131-143

Hypothermic Stunning and Mortality of Marine Turtles in the Indian River Lagoon System, Florida
Authors: Blair E. Witherington and Llewellyn M. Ehrhart
Year: 1989
Source: Copeia, Vol. 1989, No. 3 (Aug. 8, 1989), pp. 696-703
Published by: American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists (ASIH).
Permission to post this copyrighted material has been granted by ASIH.



FWC Facts:
Along the Florida coast, sea turtles annually make between 40,000 and 84,000 nests. Females nest every 2-3 years, laying several nests on sandy beaches.

Learn More at AskFWC