SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — Dennis and Lorri Wallace stood behind a strip of yellow caution tape in a crowd of dozens of people and smiled as sea turtles were carried past them one by one through a path made in the sand.
Almost as if resembling a parade, many onlookers clapped their hands with joy and took pictures of several green sea turtles waved their flippers as they were led in a row toward the Gulf waves.
Yesterday, Sea Turtle Inc staff and volunteers released 16 rehabilitated juvenile green sea turtles that ranged from 3 to 12 years old into the surf at Isla Blanca Park.
The sea turtles were among a group of 20 that had been rescued in the shallow waters of the Laguna Madre during the Rio Grande Valley’s latest round of cold fronts to hit the area recently.
“We’re fortunate that the cold snap didn’t last that long,” Sea Turtle Inc Executive Director Jeff George said. “We warmed them up slowly and these 16 sea turtles were able to go back in the ocean where they belong.”
According to Sea Turtle Inc personnel, sudden drops water temperature can cause turtles to go into a hypothermic shock they call “cold-stunned.”
Two of the 20 rescued turtles succumbed to their injuries.
And another set are still recovering.
“Two of the turtles are doing fine, but they’re going through extensive rehab because they have trauma to the eyes and to the shell,” George said. “They’ll hopefully make a full recovery and their release probably won’t be until spring.”
As the winter season approaches, Sea Turtle Inc says they expect more turtles will be affected by the weather.
“Imagine now that it’s November and winter is still upon us,” George said. “We’re still technically in the fall and so that Laguna Madre is going to suffer more cold fronts.”
George said it’s important for visitors of the bay and beach to remember sea turtles are endangered and suffer from hypothermia when the water gets too cold.
“It’s important for people to notify Sea Turtle, Inc. when they come across a turtle,” he said. “You’re not going to get in trouble. We’re going to tell you what to do and then we’ll come and rescue the turtles.”