37 new cold-stunned sea turtles have been found and transported to the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center over the past several days, per a Tuesday update from the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.
31 green, 5 Kemp’s ridley, and 1 loggerhead sea turtle were found by N.E.S.T. (Network for Endangered Sea Turtles) volunteers and Cape Hatteras National Seashore staff during the recent cold spell, with all turtles being transported to Manteo for observation and medical attention as needed.
The 2022/2023 winter season is turning out to be a busy one for N.E.S.T. and aquarium staff, as more than 200 sea turtles were also rescued several weeks ago, when temperatures dipped to below-freezing levels over the Christmas holiday.
The way that N.E.S.T. and the STAR Center work together is fairly simple. When there’s a cold snap and temperatures drop, volunteers patrol the soundside beaches of Hatteras Island looking for cold-stunned sea turtles that have washed ashore. As cold-blooded reptiles, sea turtles derive heat from their surroundings, and when they become too cold, their metabolism slows, prohibiting them from moving to warmer waters. Because they are unable to move, they have difficulty raising their heads above water to breathe, and can eventually drown.
“This program has existed for about 15 years, and before we did this, most of these stranded turtles perished,” said longtime Hatteras Island N.E.S.T Coordinator Frank Welles in an earlier interview. “These are remote places on the sound, and no one goes there in the wintertime, so those turtles weren’t making it until we started this program.”
The National Park Service (NPS) also patrols the Hatteras and Ocracoke Island beaches, primarily along the oceanfront, as the soundside terrain is mostly private property.
Once the sea turtles have been found, they are brought to a staging site where they are transported to the STAR Center for medical attention. Eventually, they are released back into the waters.
Public reports of stranded sea turtles also assist National Park Service staff and N.E.S.T. volunteers, and beachgoers are advised to be on the lookout for cold-stunned sea turtles throughout the winter season, especially when temperatures are low.
If you spot a sea turtle on land this time of year, please call one of the stranding hotlines with your location:
- On Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands: 252-216-6892 (National Park Service, Cape Hatteras National Seashore)
- North of Oregon Inlet: 252-441-8622 N.E.S.T. (Network for Endangered Sea Turtles)
- For more information on N.E.S.T., and to make a donation or learn about volunteer opportunities, visit http://www.nestonline.org/.