Flying Sea Turtles in Crisis Is Growing Concern  

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For Immediate Release:  Thursday, December 10, 2020
Contact:  Jeff Ruch (510) 213-7028; Kirsten Stade

Flying Sea Turtles in Crisis Is Growing Concern

Park Service & NOAA Shrink Sea Turtle Recovery Capacity as Need Spikes

Washington, DC — A record large air evacuation of seriously ill endangered sea turtles from Massachusetts to the Gulf of Mexico points to a gaping hole in the federal conservation safety net, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Hundreds of cold-stunned Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, the planet’s most critically endangered, are having to depend on private aid as federal assistance is disappearing.

Dropping temperatures in the waters off Cape Cod National Seashore drove approximately 500 nearly frozen animals onto beaches with many survivors loaded onto makeshift air ambulances, first to Tennessee, where planes were grounded by bad weather, and then on to the Gulf Coast. The record number of stricken turtles strains diminishing Gulf federal rehab centers where –

  • NOAA’s Galveston Sea Turtle laboratory is in the process of closing its doors.  Meanwhile, that unit’s large recirculating wet-lab system is down for renovation; and
  • The National Park Service has significantly curtailed funding and personnel at its award-winning Sea Turtle Science and Recovery program at Padre Island National Seashore.

Compounding this week’s rescue operation are COVID restrictions in facilities that forced an even higher percentage of cold stun cases be transported elsewhere.  There may be more such cold-stun events in coming days as January approaches.

“Survival of these rare sea turtles is a heroic but underfunded operation that depends upon extraordinary private generosity in the face of public cutbacks,” stated Pacific Director Jeff Ruch of PEER, which is leading efforts to block further cuts at Padre Island; the renowned National Seashore has already been ordered to reduce its response to threatened green turtle strandings and confine its activities to park boundaries. “Unfortunately, the Park Service’s current leadership is increasingly abandoning its conservation responsibilities even for the threatened and endangered sea turtles that wash up or nest on seashores.”

The air transport for the stricken turtles is made possible by a private group and volunteer pilots. As federal turtle recovery resources continue to dry up, universities and private institutes are attempting to fill the void but if the numbers of stranded turtles continue to grow and no funding is located, these private efforts will be overmatched.

“The concern is that next year the turtles trapped in freezing waters may not be so lucky,” added Ruch, noting that prospects for more such massive cold-stunning events may grow in coming years as climate change alters ocean water temperature patterns. “As at the first Christmas, these wandering turtles in need may find no place at the inn.”


See volunteer effort to transport cold-stunned sea turtles

Look at closure of NOAA Galveston sea turtle lab

Examine Park Service reductions at Padre Island Sea Turtle Science & Recovery program

View annual cold-stun sea turtle demand

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