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Thousands of 'cold-stunned' turtles are being rescued in Texas

The sea turtles have been moved to makeshift hospitals in the hopes they can warm up.
/ Source: TODAY

There’s a massive effort underway to rescue sea turtles in Texas that have been stunned by the low temperatures throughout the state.

A turtle becomes stunned after remaining in cold water for a long time after a drop in temperature, according to the Turtle Island Restoration Network.

The drastic temperature shift can have a devastating impact on the creatures. Sea Turtle, Inc. is an organization based in South Padre Island, a town on the coastal tip of the Lone Star State, whose goal is to “rescue, rehabilitate, and release injured sea turtles.” The group is now running point on an operation to help these endangered reptiles.

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“They need the water to regulate their body temperature because they're coldblooded,” Wendy Knight, executive director of Sea Turtle Inc., told TODAY’s Kerry Sanders. “So in a cold-stun event, it causes them to float to the surface of the water and, although they know what needs to happen, because they're unable to lift their heads to draw breath, they drown.”

It’s not always easy, either. Six people had to help move one green turtle from chilly water to heating lamps.

“He was well over 400 pounds, or estimated to be at least 200 years old, and he was the biggest rescue that they had,” fishing captain TJ Reyna told TODAY.

The number of turtles that have been rescued, coupled with the fact that more are coming, has posed a problem of space when it comes to finding a place to take care of them. Sea Turtle, Inc. has transformed the South Padre Convention Centre into a makeshift turtle hospital even though there isn't electricity on the premises due to outages around the state.

“We are closely monitoring the condition of the turtles here to make sure they continue to stay regulated with their body temperatures,” Knight said.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has even donated a generator to another makeshift hospital to help warm turtles being housed there. Kemp’s ridleys, hawksbills, loggerheads, leatherbacks and green turtles are among the endangered creatures who have been saved, although it is unclear how many of them will survive.

“You know, it's hard to say," Knight said. "We'll know probably by Thursday or Friday what the mortality rate of all of the turtles here are and have a little bit of an indication as to our success rate at that time.”

Turtles can survive after they have been stunned by cold weather. Sea Turtle, Inc. hopes it can increase the reptiles' body temperatures and that the water gets warmer, potentially allowing them to be released back into the wild, although the group is considering a backup plan in which the turtles are sent to warmer water in Florida.