Researchers Say Climate Change is Not to Blame for Cold Stunned Sea Turtles

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On Nov. 28, 2018 sea turtles were flown from New England to Panama City Beach. The reptiles are making national headlines, as part of the hundreds of turtles that have been cold-stunned this fall.

The Gulf World Marine Institute is currently rehabilitating 60 cold stunned sea turtles of two different species… 54 Kemp’s Ridley, and 6 Green Sea Turtles. 

Senior Veterinarian of Gulf World Julie Cavin explains their goal for the turtles. “They are both endangered species, and so anything that we can do to help these populations increase or at least maintain, is our goal.”

According to  researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), more than 500 sea turtles have been cold stunned so far this fall. National discussions have linked these numbers to climate change. Although, Ben Higgins the Sea Turtle Program Manager at NOAA, NMFS, and Galveston Laboratory said this is not abnormal, and could be due to a growing sea turtle population. “We are actually seeing a lot more sea turtles out there now than we did 10, 24 years ago so when it gets cold we’re going to see more cold stunned sea turtles.”

Sea turtles have been around for millions of years and have been through lots of environmental changes. “They’ve gone through at least 3 major ice ages and somehow they’ve managed to adapt. Some people are suggesting that maybe Kemps Ridley’s- because things are getting warmer in north america- they’re starting to shift nesting beaches to cooler areas. There was actually a nest on Long Island in New York this year which has never been seen before,” explained Higgins.

Sea turtles migrate to follow food or lay eggs. “So they’re normally up there in the summer and they just get caught when it gets cold,” said Cavin. She also said there is not enough evidence right now to point to finger at climate change as the cause for cold-stunned sea turtles. “I don’t think at this point we can say that definitively climate change is causing an increased number of standings for sea turtles.”

When a turtle is cold stunned it’s lungs inflate to keep from drowning, and their bodies begin to shut down. The Gulf World Marine Institute will continue to receive care until they are healthy enough to be released into the gulf. 

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