CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — A record number of loggerhead sea turtles have been found stranded on Texas beaches in the past four months and researchers are not yet sure why.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service said 282 loggerheads were found stranded on Texas beaches between April 1 and Aug. 19, more than twice the average annual number of loggerhead strandings recorded from 2012 to 2021. Only one third of those turtles have been found alive.
“There’s a large number of turtles, almost 300 stranded," said Donna J. Shaver, Ph.D., Texas Coordinator of STSSN and Chief of the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at the National Park Service’s Padre Island National Seashore. "So far this year, compared to on average a year for the last 10 years, 109 for the whole year.”
Loggerhead sea turtles are one of five species of sea turtle known to inhabit the Gulf of Mexico. Adults are about three feet long and can weigh up to 350 pounds.
"The affected loggerheads have been found underweight and emaciated. They are receiving diligent care in rehabilitation, and we hope that most will recover and ultimately be released back into the Gulf of Mexico,” said Mary Kay Skoruppa, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Sea Turtle Coordinator for Texas.
Most of the sea turtles have been found in the Coastal Bend between Calhoun and Kleberg Counties, FWS officials said.
The cause of the strandings is something multiple researchers are investigating. Shaver believes it may be habitat-related, such as decreases in food supply, freshwater inflows, and water quality, and exposure to hypoxic areas and maybe even contaminated prey.
"Not knowing what is causing this, for one, and then not having a direct link to anything people are doing makes it really challenging to try to be able to help these turtles,” Shaver said.
Infectious diseases, biotoxins, and fisheries-related captures have been ruled out as the causative agents for the loggerhead strandings, FWS officials said.
The only reason you will see a sea turtle on the beach is if it is sick, injured or nesting, officials said. If you spot a turtle, quickly report the sighting by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5 (1-866-887-8535).
Callers should be prepared to describe where the turtle is located, whether it appears to be dead or alive, and the size of the animal. Callers are sometimes asked to stay near the animal to help guide officials and protect the turtle from vehicles or scavengers.
“It takes a lot of coordination among trained, authorized individuals to successfully rescue stranded sea turtles,” Skoruppa said. “It is therefore critical that citizens report their sightings immediately, so that rescue efforts can begin quickly.
Sometimes there are considerable travel distances to remote areas and other rescues may be happening at the same time, so we ask that people be patient after calling to report a stranded turtle.”
Because they are protected under the Endangered Species Act, when a sea turtle is rescued, it is taken to an authorized rehabilitation facility, like the Amos Rehabilitation Keep (ARK), Texas State Aquarium or Texas Sealife Center, where they are assessed and treated. Once medically cleared by a veterinarian, the turtles are released back into the Gulf of Mexico.
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