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Service helps sea turtles hit by Florida freeze

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service helped rescue hundreds of near-frozen sea turtles during Florida’s recent cold snap.

Roughly 900 threatened or endangered turtles, mostly green turtles, but including Kemp’s Ridleys and loggerheads, were pulled from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean as water temperatures dropped below 50 degrees.

Most were taken to the Gulf World Marine Institute in Panama City Beach where they were warmed up and fed, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. They’ll be tagged and returned to the now-warming waters in coming days, said spokeswoman Michelle Kerr.

Maybe 100 turtles across the Panhandle were found dead or died soon thereafter.

A woman wearing a sweatshirt holding a sea turtle.
Anna Clark holding a sea turtle. Photo by USFWS.

When water temperatures drop, the reptiles’ heart rates drop and they become lethargic, unable to swim and can die from shock or respiratory distress.

A handful of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service employees in the Panama City office helped rescue turtles over the weekend. They joined turtle-loving volunteers from Port St. Joe to Tyndall Air Force Base who waded into the Gulf to rescue the stunned and disoriented animals. Injured turtles, including those suffering from fibropapillomatosis, a virus that causes debilitating tumors, were also corralled and treated at Gulf World.

Anna Clark and Jeff Schlafke, were painting a house in Cape San Blas, when they learned of the turtles’ plight. They quit working and set about saving the turtles, losing two days pay

“Anna wore these tiny tennis shoes that had to be wet — and it was so cold out,” said Patty Kelly, a wildlife biologist in the Panama City office. “Unbelievable.”

A man wearing a sweatshirt holding a sea turtle.
Jeff Schlafke holding a sea turtle. Photo by USFWS.

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