The cold weather we’ve experienced in the past few weeks has not only stunned us but also sea turtles, forcing wildlife conservationists to rescue and rehabilitate them. Saturday some of those turtles were returned back into their environment.
More 300 hundred green sea turtles were loaded up at Gulf World in Panama City Beach to make their journey back home.
“When the water gets cold this will happen and we are prepared for it. It is a completely natural process. Cold stunting happens to reptiles so we have room for more and luckily after today we made room for even more,” said stranding coordinator at Gulf World Marine Institute, Lauren Albrittain.
Gulf World Marine Institute has nursed more than a thousand turtles back to health just this winter, making it the second largest cold stunned turtle event the Panhandle has ever seen.
Sea turtles need to swim in waters with temperatures 50 degrees or higher to be healthy. Some of the turtles released on Saturday were found in waters with temperatures in the 30’s.
“Their metabolism goes down and they and die from that type of disruption but also they will float and wash ashore and then scavengers might kill them,” said research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Allen Foley.
The turtles came from St. Joseph Bay but for now will swim in the warmer waters of the Gulf.
“They will go back into the bay but the hope is that it will take them a few weeks before they do that and by then the height of winter will be over and cold stunting wont be an issue,” said Foley.
“These particular cold stunted turtles its a fairly quick process, just the amount of time to give them some fluids, check for other problems then we warm them up and they are on their way,” said Albrittain.
Hundreds of people showed up at Cape San Blas to watch the release.
“It’s going to be a very exciting experience for my young girls,” said Nancy Harris who drove from South Walton.
Sea turtles used to be endangered but have recently been moved to a threatened species status. Nonetheless, wildlife officials still worry about their population in the years to come.