First cold-stunned sea turtles arrive on Jekyll Island

JEKYLL ISLAND, Ga. () – The first cold-stunned sea turtles of the season arrived on Jekyll Island from Massachusetts on Sunday.

GSTC staff at the Jekyll Island airport on November 27 waiting for the cold-stunned sea turtle’s arrival. (Photo provided courtesy of the Jekyll Island Authority)

According to the Georgia Sea Turtle Center (GSTC), pilot Steve Bernstein of Turtle’s Fly Too, Inc. and his son Owen met with the center staff at the Jekyll Island airport after flying in eight cold-stunned Kemp’s ridleys sea turtles for long-term rehabilitation.

Pilot Steve Bernstein (left) and his son Owen (back left) flew the cold-stunned sea turtles from Massachusetts to Georgia for their treatment. (Photo provided courtesy of the Jekyll Island Authority)

All eight Kemp’s ridleys were then transferred to the GSTC and given an initial evaluation. Their treatment includes slowly rewarming the turtles to match the water temperature to their body temperature.

Dr. Terry Norton taking a closer look at a patient (a cold-stunned sea turtle) at GSTC. (Photo provided courtesy of the Jekyll Island Authority)

Their temperature will be raised by 5 degrees per day. If their temperature is raised too quickly, it can create physiological changes that can cause them to become stressed or shocked. The turtles will also receive supportive care that could include blood work, radiographs, diagnostics and wound management if they have any wounds.

Dr. Terry Norton giving a patient (a cold-stunned sea turtle) a shot at GSTC. (Photo provided courtesy of the Jekyll Island Authority)

Cold-stunning is a condition in which sea turtles become very weak and inactive from exposure to cold temperatures. It generally occurs when water temperatures fall below 50˚F where sea turtles are present.

Hundreds of sea turtles are impacted by cold-stunning events every year in the U.S., and the number is continuing to increase at both state and national levels according to The State of The Worlds Sea Turtles (SWOT).

Treatment for cold-stunned turtles includes slowly rewarming the turtles to match the water temperature to their body temperature. (Photo provided courtesy of the Jekyll Island Authority)

All hard-shelled sea turtle species are physiologically susceptible to cold stunning, and Kemp’s ridleys, greens, and loggerheads are found stranded more frequently. Of those three species, the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is the most frequently observed during the cold-stun season.

“Last year we flew about 800,” said Bonnie Barnes, who set up tracking software for Turtle’s Fly Too. “Every year is different. We have seasons that are more severe and less severe. It varies each year.” 

The estimated 800 rescues do not include other recoveries, such as whales and otters, have also been made by Turtles Fly Too, according to Barnes.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other organizations call on Turtles Fly Too to provide air transportation when endangered species are threatened, either through a cold stun event, entanglement, or when an endangered animal is injured. Transport by aircraft instead of ground shortens travel time and therefore reduces stress on turtles and other endangered species.

Turtles Fly Too’s mission is to coordinate and facilitate the inclusion of general aviation in large-scale “first responder” relocation efforts. General aviation pilots contribute their expertise, aircraft, fuel and time while leaving a lasting mark on endangered species rescue efforts.

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