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Gulf World Marine Institute welcomes 14 cold-stunned sea turtles

Published: Dec. 18, 2021 at 11:41 PM CST
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PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - A local non-profit facility is playing its part in rehabilitating some very special reptiles.

“We did yesterday receive 14 juvenile Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. That’s our species that was cold-stunned in the Cape Cod area,” Lauren Albrittain, Gulf World Marine Institute’s Stranding Coordinator, said.

For those unfamiliar with the term cold-stunned, it’s where the water the turtles were swimming in dropped below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.

“These are reptiles and so their body temperatures are set by their environment. And when it drops that low, they run the risk of what is called cold-stunning -- their bodies essentially freeze,” Albrittain said.

Albrittain says this is similar to when people go through hypothermia, all the power goes to keeping them alive. Their hearts continue breathing, but the turtles become lethargic and eventually wash up onshore.

“They have volunteers that walk the beaches every day. They basically find these turtles all day. Bring them to the New England Aquarium. Triage them and then, when they get a lot they ship them to other facilities throughout the country,” Albrittain said.

This is where the marine institute comes in.

Excess turtles are flown to the facility through a non-profit organization called Turtles Fly Too.

“That organization is basically private plane owners and jet owners who volunteer their time and their fuel and their equipment to essentially bring the turtles down to us which is super awesome,” Albrittain said.

While the turtles are at the facility, they will remain in triage habitats for the remainder of the rehab.

“Once everything is back to normal, we’ll send them out as soon as we can. It can be anywhere from a month to six or seven months if it’s more severe,” Albrittain said.

One way the program has remained consistent in helping other facilities is through volunteer work.

Despite Hurricane Michael and the pandemic, the institute has been able to keep a steady staff to care for the different aquatic animals.

However, the facility is always accepting applications for volunteers.

“It is a hard field to get into, but if you’re passionate about it. I know there are a bunch of people out there who loves sea turtles as much as we do. Get involved as much as possible with local facilities. Interning, volunteering, definitely going to school. That’s how you can get involved,” Secret Holmes-Douglas, Gulf World Marine Institute Director, said.

For more information on volunteering opportunities, visit their website.

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