Frigid waters in Florida during the first two weeks in January shocked a record number of sea turtles into a coma-like state that would have killed nearly all of them — had state and federal wildlife workers not come to the rescue.
Several officials interviewed for this article say that while it’s to early to know the precise number of “cold-stunned” turtles rescued in the event, they all estimated that the number is at least 5,000. That is an order of magnitude larger than the worst previous incident (400 turtles in 2001).
While the cold-stun event itself was a natural occurrence, the potential impact on sea turtles — all species are threatened or endangered — has more to do with human activity.
“If populations were at normal levels, sea turtle species would do just fine with an event like this every thirty or forty years,” says Allen Foley, a wildlife biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). But today’s populations are a fraction of what they were historically.
Once numbering in the tens of millions, sea turtles were nearly hunted to extinction throughout the Caribbean, following the arrival of Europeans. Since the Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973, habit loss and fisheries “bycatch” (accidently catch in fishing gear) has replaced hunting as gravest threats to sea turtles in US waters.
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