Last winter the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation rescued 11 cold-stunned sea turtles. So far this year, they have rescued over 20 cold-stunned sea turtles.
Sea-turtles are common in our area when the weather (and water) is warm. Turtles are reptiles who need an outside source of heat to maintain their body temperature, so when the water temperature starts to drop, most sea turtle species must migrate to warm waters, or they can die.
The largest sea turtle, the Leatherback, is specially adapted to live in cold water, so don’t be too surprised if you see one swimming about this time of year! The Kemps Ridley, Green Sea Turtle, and the Loggerhead are found in our area and are susceptible to cold-stunning if they don't migrate south. All of these turtles have been rescued along the shores of Long Island by the Riverhead Foundation in past years.
As the water cools in the fall, the turtles migrate to warmer waters. If they don’t leave in time, or if very cold weather causes a fast drop in water temperature, they can become hypothermic or ‘stunned’ by the cold water. They become extremely sluggish and can't swim away to warmer waters. They stop eating and become extremely weak. They end up floating on the surface or sometimes wash up on the beach. They tend to wash up along north facing beaches, but they can be found on any beach!
You can help rescue cold-stunned sea turtles by patrolling the shoreline! Go for a stroll on our beautiful beaches and you just may rescue a sea turtle! After storms or very cold weather is a good time to patrol, but they can be found anytime. You might see one in the wrack line, or close to the water’s edge. When looking for sea turtles, look around the entire beach from the dunes to the water. Look for turtles near the waters edge and also for those who may be buried beneath dried seaweed or other debris. Don’t forget to check the water for floating turtles as well.
The turtle may not be moving and you might think that it is dead, but there is a chance that it is cold stunned, and it can be saved! Call the experts at the Riverhead Foundation asap and let them decide if the turtle can be saved!
If you spot a sea turtle, please call 631-369-9829. It is a 24 hr. Emergency Hot-line number, so don't hesitate to call any day, anytime, day or night. If you are unsure if the animal needs help, call the Foundation and let them decide.
If you can’t wait for the rescuers to arrive, clearly mark the area so they can find the turtle. If the animal is in or close to the water, remove it from the water and place it above the high tide mark. If it is windy, try to block the wind. Whatever you do, don’t try to warm the sea turtle. Leave that to the experts. If done improperly, the turtle can die. You might think it is already dead, but again, please leave that decision to the folks at the Riverhead Foundation.
For more information on cold-stunned sea turtles, click here to watch an interview with Rob and Julika from the Riverhead Foundation.
The Riverhead Foundation holds training lectures where you can learn more about how to rescue sea turtles. The lectures are held in the fall at many locations. They are not holding anymore this year, but you can call their office 631-369-9840 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Take a walk on the beach today and save a sea turtle for tomorrow.