Jan
05

“Chilled” sea turtles rescued near Cape Canaveral

Florida wildlife officials are working to rescue sea turtles in the Cape Canaveral area, such as this one rescued this week. The turtles are being held in pools at Playalinda Beach at Canaveral National Seashore. (Photo: Karrie Minch, FWC)

Florida wildlife officials are working to rescue sea turtles in the Cape Canaveral area, such as this one rescued this week. The turtles are being held in pools at Playalinda Beach at Canaveral National Seashore. (Photo: Karrie Minch, FWC)

Some sea turtles are chilling out at the Canaveral National Seashore.

Rescuers brought several sea turtles, stressed from this week’s cold water in the Indian River Lagoon, to warm up Friday in rehabilitation pools at a staging area at Playalinda Beach. They rescued seven  “cold-stunned” sea turtles Friday from the Mosquito Lagoon: six green sea turtles and one loggerhead sea turtle.

“The vast majority of animals will be warmed and released as soon as conditions allow, which is expected to be within a week or two (based on current weather predictions),” Michelle Kerr, a spokeswoman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said Friday via email. “At that time they will be tagged and given health assessments.”

Wildlife officials don’t expect as many as in January 2010, when they rescued thousands of sea turtles in Brevard County, bringing the exhausted reptiles to a maintenance building at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, which overlays NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

“We had 2,000 come through,” Refuge Manager Layne Hamilton said of the mass turtle stranding in 2010. “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens. It’s not like it was in 2010, when it just stayed cold.”

That year, severe, extended cold had dire ecological consequences on the lagoon. Frigid waters killed off much of a common seaweed-like “drift” algae, pulsing excess nitrogen and phosphorus from the dead algae into the water. Then phytoplankton fed off those nutrients, blocking sunlight to seagrass on the lagoon bottom, killing more than half the lagoon’s seagrass — prime shrimp, fish and crab habitat, and key food source for manatees.

Florida wildlife officials are working to rescue sea turtles in the Cape Canaveral area, such as this one rescued this week. The turtles are being held in pools at Playalinda Beach at Canaveral National Seashore. (Photo: Karrie Minch, FWC)

Florida wildlife officials are working to rescue sea turtles in the Cape Canaveral area, such as this one rescued this week. The turtles are being held in pools at Playalinda Beach at Canaveral National Seashore. (Photo: Karrie Minch, FWC)

For sea turtles, the threat comes when their internal temperature dips below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The cold–blooded reptiles rely on external sources of heat to set their body temperature. If they can’t swim to warmer waters in time, they can die.

“Nearly 100 turtles have been rescued so far,” Kipp Frohlich, director of FWC’s division of habitat and species conservation, said in a press release Wednesday. “We are also monitoring the Mosquito Lagoon and other areas of the state to see if sea turtles are being impacted there.”

Sea turtles typically begin to migrate south by late October. For unknown reasons, however, some don’t leave early enough. Turtles foraging in the shallows and inlets are most susceptible, because water temperatures there can dip faster than in deeper waters.

Water temperatures in the lagoon already have dropped to the mid 50s this week, according to temperature monitors operated by the St. Johns River Water Management District.

Temperatures were expected to drop low enough to “stun” sea turtles in the Mosquito Lagoon over the weekend. FWC’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St. Petersburg has tanks to temporarily hold sea turtles. FWC staff coordinated with staff from Canaveral National Seashore, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and NASA, to search for turtles and to transport them to holding tanks or rehabilitation facilities, if needed, FWC officials said.

Some turtles that are stranded locally would be taken to the Brevard Zoo. In 2014, the zoo, in partnership with the Sea Turtle Preservation Society, opened a $150,000, 2,400-square-foot Sea Turtle Healing Center.

Seven years ago, sea turtles, manatees and fish endured one of the deadliest cold snaps for Florida marine life on record. In January 2010, cold killed hundreds of turtles, manatees and untold fish statewide. Dozens of pelicans, gulls, terns, baby raccoons and other chilled critters were brought into the Florida Wildlife Hospital & Sanctuary in Palm Shores.

In east-central Florida, average daily temperatures in the first two weeks of January 2010 dipped to about 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Then on Jan. 20, a one-day record of 17 manatees were reported dead from cold stress, according to FWC. From January to April that year, 58 manatees were rescued and a record 503 manatee carcasses were found in state waters, surpassing the previous record of 429 set in 2009.

It may be weeks before manatees show symptoms from this week’s cold snap, FWC officials said.

Manatees exposed to prolonged water temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit can rapidly succumb to hypothermia, or suffer a longer-lasting chronic debilitation, called “cold-stress syndrome,” which also can be fatal. Cold exposure can cause emaciation, skin lesions, abscesses, dehydration, digestion disorders, internal abscesses and secondary infections.

Some economically important fish species also could perish in this week’s cold, especially snook, which are more sensitive to cold water.

Contact Waymer at 321-242-3663 or jwaymer@floridatoday.com Follow him on Twitter@JWayEnviro and at facebook.com/jim.waymer

Help animals

If you see dead or sick manatees, sea turtles or other wildlife, don’t touch or try to rescue them yourself. Contact Florida’s wildlife alert hot line at 1-888-404-3922 or the Sea Turtle Preservation Society at 321-206-0646.

If you see injured birds, call the Florida Wildlife Hospital & Sanctuary at 321-254-8843.

Article by Jim Waymer, Florida Today, Complete Article [ HERE ]

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