January 6, 2016
Volunteers are saving scores of cold-stunned
sea turtles on Hatteras....WITH VIDEO


By IRENE NOLAN



Hatteras Island's climate went from balmy to Arctic almost overnight. The weather went from a month of record warmth to temperatures plunging to freezing or below and snow showers falling on the northern shores -- all in just a few days.

And human inhabitants of Hatteras weren't the only ones stunned by the Mother Nature's  cruel about-face. A band of volunteers have been hard at work this week rescuing cold-stunned sea turtles along the island's frigid and windy Pamlico Sound shoreline.

Lou Browning of Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation in Frisco, heads up the volunteer effort on the island, along with Frank Welles, also of Frisco.  The two men have been at it for some years now, and each year they get a little more help.

Browning said today, during a mid-day break to warm up, that islanders and other volunteers have really stepped up this week to help save as many of the cold-stunned turtles as possible.

About 15 or 20 trained volunteers, including students at Cape Hatteras Secondary School, he said, have been patrolling the shorelines and hauling turtles to safety -- it's cold and sometimes back-breaking work when the turtles have to be moved long distances.

Other folks are finding the turtles on their property, on their walks, or when they are commercial fishing or hunting and have been getting in touch with Browning and Welles.

Yesterday, 81 sea turtles were sent to the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.  Today, by mid-day, Browning said about 100 turtles had been rescued and were headed to the STAR Center.

Browning and Welles and other Hatteras volunteers work under the auspices of the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (NEST), which is based in Kill Devil Hills.

Both NEST and STAR volunteers help with the effort, which this year is based at the Old Weather Station Building on the Back Road in Buxton.

Browning said that all but two of the turtles, rescued by mid-day today, were endangered green turtles.  There was also one loggerhead and one Kemp's ridley sea turtle rescued.

The sea turtles -- except for the loggerheads -- usually don't nest on the seashore, but they take a break from their long migrations to feed and forage in the Pamlico Sound. However, they can be trapped if the temperature falls quickly, as it has done in the past few days.

As cold-blooded reptiles, sea turtles derive heat from their surroundings and when they become too cold, their metabolism slows, prohibiting them from moving and ultimately from migrating to warmer water.  This also makes it challenging to determine whether the cold-stunned turtles are alive or dead. If they are alive, they can possibly be rehabilitated and released back into the wild.

Once a sea turtle is retrieved, it must be taken to the processing center at the Old Weather Station where volunteers from STAR and NEST measure it and record other important information before it can be transported to the STAR center. Transportation also often involves volunteers.

It's all a finely-tuned volunteer effort, one that Browning said has really come together in the past several days. And, he has noted in past interviews, saving these young turtles is vital to the survival of their species.

Almost all of the rescued turtles have been juveniles, Browning said.

"They don't know any better," he added. "They are just swimming around in the sound where it's warm and there's plenty of food.

"It's like they think they are in Florida," he said.

If you find a cold-stunned sea turtle or want to volunteer to help, you can call Browning at 252-475-4217 or Welles at 252-995-2417,

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Click here to listen to the audio of an interview with Lou Browning and Frank Welles for the Radio Hatteras show, "To the Point."  The two talk about the work of rescuing cold-stunned turtles and its importance to the survival of the species in the interview, which was broadcast in December 2014.

Cold Stunned Sea Turtles 2016

Cold Stunned Sea Turtles....... 81 sent to the STAR Hospital today! Thanks to all the wonderful volunteers on Hatteras, from NEST and at the STAR center. Also thanks to all the local residents who found, called and brought turtles to us! Great Job! Get some sleep, crack of dawn we're back out!

Posted by Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation on Tuesday, January 5, 2016



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