Coastal Studies Lab aids in endangered sea turtle recovery
Posted: 01/20/2010
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The University of Texas-Pan American's Coastal Studies Laboratory (CSL) at South Padre Island worked with Sea Turtle Inc. (STI)to help recover 125 endangered green sea turtles from the Lower Laguna Madre during the Texas Gulf Coast's recent cold temperature shock.

Pictured are some of the 66 live endangered green sea turtles recovered during the recent Texas Gulf coast cold temperature shock and housed and rehabilitated at UTPA's Coastal Studies Lab before they were later released back into warmer bay waters.
Green sea turtles are mostly tropical and subtropical turtles. During the recent cold shock that began Jan. 9, the water temperatures dropped from 60 to 32 degrees in 18 hours causing, at the latest count, nearly 400 sea turtle deaths in the largest cold stunning event in Texas ever recorded. The CSL housed 66 of the 79 live turtles brought in. Forty-six turtles of the 125 recovered were found dead or died.

"A rapid drop in temperature stuns the turtles and if left in the cold, many will die or be killed by scavengers. Live turtles are placed in a warm (room temperature) place to allow them to slowly absorb heat. We keep them moist in very shallow water, an inch or two, and they are released when the bay temperature rises," said Don Hockaday, CSL research and education coordinator.

STI is a nonprofit organization founded on the island in 1977 to aid in the protection and recovery of the endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle but has expanded its mission to include conservation efforts of all marine turtle species.

The CSL is the South Padre Island Headquarters for the Sea Turtle Salvage and Stranding Network, which was established in 1980 to collect information on and document strandings of marine turtles along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coasts.

UTPA's Coastal Studies Lab joined Sea Turtle Inc. during the recent January sharp cold snap to recover endangered green sea turtles threatened by the extreme weather change.
Hockaday, who has permits from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to handle sea turtles, said the lab numbers, measures, photographs, and fills out a stranding form for each cold stunned or cold killed turtle found. They are also tagged with Monel flipper tags similar to cattle ear tags or with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags which are inserted with a hypodermic needle and can be read with an electronic scanner. The stranding forms are sent to state officials who forward them on to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Twelve of the surviving turtles are still in rehab at STI. The rest were stabilized and released when the Gulf water temperatures rose to a safe level for them.

Anyone still seeing stranded or dead sea turtles should continue to report them to STI. Learn more about STI at

The CSL, established as a marine biology laboratory in 1973 in Isla Blanca Park on South Padre Island, focuses on coastal research and public and pre-K-16 educational programs and courses. Research at the lab is directed toward coastal ecosystems of southern Texas and northern Mexico. Current emphasis is on the Laguna Madre and South Padre Island. For more information on the CSL, call 956/761-2644 or go to