When temperatures dip, sea turtles face danger


A "cold stun" turtle was rescued during the cold snap in January. The turtle is being rehabilitated at the Brevard Zoo.

VIERA VOICE Courtesy of Indian River County Public Works


It’s not just people who must adjust when temperatures dip in Brevard County.

Sea turtles and other wildlife, like manatees, must adapt to cooler-than-normal temperatures in the air and in the water not just to stay comfortable — but to survive.

Kendra Cope is an environmental specialist and sea turtle expert with Indian River County Public Works. She says that sea turtles face a phenomenon called “cold stun” when water temperatures dip below 50 degrees. The National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration defines a cold stun as a hypothermic reaction that can result in decreased heart rate, lethargy, shock, pneumonia and possibly death in sea turtles.

“Water temperature fluctuates less than air temperature, but when there is a prolonged cold period, it does affect the water and the animals in it,” Cope said.

The most recent cold snap in early January saw around 11 cold stun turtles rescued out of the north Indian River Lagoon, near the Banana River and Mosquito Lagoon, Cope said.

According to NOAA, Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are the most common cold stunned species, followed by loggerhead sea turtles and green sea turtles.

Cope and organizations such as the Sea Turtle Preservation Society in Indialantic want to raise awareness about cold stun events so that average people can report any sea turtles in danger.

If people see a cold stunned or otherwise stranded sea turtle, they should call the Florida Wildlife Conservation Alert Hotline at 888-404-3922 or the Sea Turtle Preservation Society at 321-206-0646. 

Follow the Sea Turtle Preservation Society on Facebook SeaTurtlePreservationSociety/) and the UCF Marine Turtle Research Group on Facebook (ucfmtrg/).