MANTEO, N.C. – COVID-19 may have put a halt on many things this year, but a winter tradition at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island continues. The first sea turtle patients affected by cold-stunning arrived at the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center on Friday.
Five new patients – four green turtles and one Kemp’s Ridley turtle – are being treated at the Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital.
Cold-stunning is caused when water temperatures drop quickly. Sea turtles close to shore and unable to get back to the warmer waters of the Gulf Stream can experience a hypothermic condition that hinders them from being able to swim properly.
According to the Aquarium, treatment involves gradually warming the turtles back to their healthy temperature, then making sure they are able to swim and eat normally. Because they are vulnerable to other illness and injury, the STAR Center staff and veterinary team may treat them for a number of other issues.
Depending on the condition of their health, recovery may take weeks or months before the turtles are cleared for release.
Volunteers with the nonprofit Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (N.E.S.T.) and members of the National Park Service recovered the turtles near Hatteras before the animals were taken to the STAR Center.
Although the STAR Center treats sick or injured sea turtles year-round, cold-stun season - which is typically December through February - is often the busiest time for the facility. The Aquarium says dozens, even hundreds, of turtle patients have come through the hospital for treatment, and in past winters, the staff has had to get creative with finding space for them all.
Recovery tubs have been known to take up the entire public visiting side of the STAR Center, and because of the need for separate spaces held at different temperatures, the Aquarium’s gatehouse restrooms are often used. When playing host to the turtles, those areas will be closed to guests so the animals can rest and recover.
As cold-stun season progresses, the Aquarium will release updates on the newest turtles to arrive at the STAR Center, as well as progress on recovering turtles.
More supplies are needed in anticipation of more turtles arriving for treatment. If you are able, you can purchase items from the STAR Center’s Amazon.com wish list to help staff care for current and incoming patients.