November 4, 2010

Volunteers and donations are needed to help sea turtles in the wintertime


Each winter on the Outer Banks, many sea turtles die from a condition known as “cold stun.”  This results from water temperatures rapidly dropping below 57 degrees Fahrenheit. 

The sea turtles cannot acclimate to these fast-falling temperatures, and they become sluggish and lose their ability to swim.  If they cannot swim, then they cannot get their heads above water to breathe, and they drown. 

A lot of emphasis is put on protecting the sea turtle nesting sites on the beaches in the summer, but it is just as important to help the adult turtles in the winter.  Every time one adult is saved from drowning, it is equivalent to saving 1,000 turtle hatchlings.  This is because only one sea turtle hatchling in more than 1,000 lives to the breeding age of about 25 years and older.

Cold-stunned sea turtles wash up on the ocean beach and the soundside.  When they are found, they are transported to Roanoke Island Veterinary Clinic for screening and are then taken to the rehabilitation facility at the North Carolina Aquarium in Manteo.  This facility is run by the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (NEST), a non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and protection of the habitats and migration routes of sea turtles and other marine animals on the Outer Banks from the Virginia border to Oregon Inlet.

We need volunteers who will help save cold-stunned sea turtles this winter.
Some duties require special training and permitting because sea turtles are a federally-protected species. However, you can still help by doing nothing more that looking around the soundside on chilly mornings!

First, we need you to let us know where these sea turtles are.

On cold mornings after a temperature drop, several volunteers on Hatteras and Ocracoke kayak or walk along the soundside looking for live turtles in the grass line at the edge of the water.
If the wind is from the northeast, we need volunteers to cover from Buxton to Ocracoke village. If the wind is from the northwest, we need to cover from Buxton to Oregon Inlet. This is a huge territory for a handful of volunteers to cover, so the more we have, the more likely cold-stunned turtles will be found and, hopefully, saved.

People who live on the soundside on Hatteras or Ocracoke can simply look around their property to see if any turtles have washed up.  If you find a turtle that you think may possibly be alive, please call (252) 216-6892. If it is obviously dead, we still need to know where it is, so call (252) 995-6968. 

If you want to be able to touch or move the turtles, you will need to get training first.  Training in Buxton is tentatively scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 9. For information about training, please call (252) 995-6968. If you find any stranded turtles above Bodie Island, please call NEST at (252) 441-8622.

We also need assistance in transporting the live sea turtles to Manteo. 

The sooner these cold animals get to a veterinarian, the better their chances for survival.  There are certain procedures for transporting live turtles in order to keep them from going into shock.  Training and permitting is required before you can transport.
And, finally, we need monetary donations.  

We need money to pay for medical treatment and rehabilitation expenses.  Not including transportation or food, each turtle costs at least $300 to diagnose and treat.  Last winter we rehabilitated more than 50 turtles.  NEST's tab was more than $15,000.   Donations are always needed. 

To learn more, please visit the NEST website at

(Lou Browning is a federally licensed wildlife rehabilitator who runs Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation in Frisco.  You can check his website at  His work is also financed with donations.)

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