2018 Cold Stun Event
In early January 2018, Gulf World Marine Institute participated in the second-largest sea turtle cold stunning event of the state’s history. Between January 2nd and January 8th, over 800 sea turtles were brought to the facility after having been found “cold-stunned”. After a short gap, another cold front between January 18th through the 19th caused an additional burst of strandings, bringing the total for the event to over 1,220.
Sea turtles are marine reptiles, and this means their body temperatures are dependent upon their environment. When the water temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, as can happen in bays or estuaries off of the Gulf of Mexico coast, reptilian bodies begin to experience a sensation similar to hypothermia. Blood flow is centralized to their internal organs, and the flippers become immobile, causing the animals to either float or strand alive with dangerously low body temperatures. St. Joseph Bay in the eastern Florida Panhandle is one such location where, when winter temperatures bring the water temperature below 50, the multitude of sea turtles that survive there year round are put at risk.
Responses of this magnitude involve the entire conservation community, and members of Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the United States Geological Survey, St. Joseph Bay Buffer Preserve, the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve (ANERR), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service teamed up with local residents near the Bay to help transport all 1,200 of these animals to Gulf World for assessment. Once the animals arrived, they were given fluids, assessed for additional injuries, and given time to warm before being placed in salt water. Once the body temperatures of the sea turtles had reached the same levels as the Gulf of Mexico, plans were made for release. With the communal efforts of all of the rescuing organizations, the animals were measured, tagged, and transported back to Cape San Blas for a series of releases. The largest release, which featured over 300 sea turtles, was open to the public, and hundreds of people came to watch the turtles be safely returned to the Gulf.
Please follow this link to see CBS coverage of the event: