The importance of being prepared
Unfortunately, last February brought us two news that highlighted the importance of being well prepared when working on the recovery of marine fauna – in this case, more specifically sea turtles.
The first news came from South Padre Island, Texas, on whose shores many sea turtles spend the winter. The sea temperature in that area drops quickly at the end of winter, causing some sea turtles, whose body temperature depends on the ambient temperature, to strand on the beaches without being able to move, stunned by the cold, a process known as cold-stunning.
This year, however, the drop in temperatures on the coast was extreme and very, very fast: from 25°C to 5°C in 4 days! This caused the biggest cold-stunning event in history. If temperatures began to drop on February 12, by February 21 the main recovery centre in South Texas, Sea Turtle Inc., had received more than 5,000 turtles. About 11,000 (mainly green turtles) were rescued throughout the state of Texas.
Fortunately, the network of sea turtle stranding on that coast, together with NOAA, has developed a response protocol for these types of events, which facilitated (although everything was complicated by the lack of space and by power cuts for days) a very effective response that allowed them to release thousands of recovered turtles in a few days, once the sea temperature rose to adequate levels.
The second news came from much closer: on February 17, from the shores of Israel, a serious oil spill of unknown origin struck. The national recovery centre recorded the arrival of 11 live oil-covered turtles, all of which were treated and cleaned without a problem, all juvenile loggerhead turtles. In cases of oil spills, however, previous experiences seem to indicate that the turtles do not usually reach the coasts when they are affected by the spill, but rather remain in the high seas without being able to move. Therefore, the real impact of this spill on the population of sea turtles in those waters will never be known.
Both cases highlight the importance of developing response protocols to events with a significant arrival of affected marine fauna. The danger of hydrocarbon spills that exists in the Mediterranean Sea is evident, to which the effect of climate change can be added, which could multiply extreme meteorological events, such as the one that happened in Texas. From SUBMON, we have been part of the EUROWA European Network for a response to oiled fauna for several years, and we are currently developing, together with Royal NIOZ staff, Sea Alarm and WWF Finland, a response protocol to events involving oiled sea turtles in Europe, within of the EUROWA-2 project.