Canaveral National Seashore

Canaveral National Seashore

Over 2000 Endangered Sea Turtles Rescued

January 20, 2010, 10:22 am

Mosquito Lagoon in Canaveral National Seashore is a major nursery area for juvenile green and loggerhead sea turtles.  Recently, a week-long period of unusually low temperatures immobilized hundreds of these cold-blooded reptiles, causing them to float helplessly, pushed by the wind onto shallow bars.  Unless rescued, they faced death by exposure. 

Park staff have just completed participation in a large-scale rescue of cold-stunned sea turtles within the lagoon and surrounding waters. Ranger Rob Romer found the first three turtles on January 4th and 5th.  With an extended forecast of unusually cold weather, the interagency sea turtle rescue network was notified and the incident command system was put into effect. 

Over the next few days, water temperatures dropped as low as four degrees C in Mosquito Lagoon.  Many additional strandings were reported in the Indian and Banana rivers near the park. Hundreds of stunned sea turtles were washing ashore each day.

In an extraordinary interagency effort, the park and many other groups, including NASA, USFWS, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, U.S. Air Force, St Johns River Water Management District and numerous volunteers, took to the water to retrieve the stranded turtles. These were transported to several processing facilities, the primary one being established at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, where basic measurements were taken before shipping the turtles to more adequate holding facilities such as Sea World, Marineland and other aquaria and rehabilitation centers.

Brutal weather conditions hampered operations on January 9th, causing park employees and others to rummage through drawers seeking little-used long-underwear, coats and gloves.  Operations were actually suspended for a day to ensure human safety. 

Weather began to improve shortly thereafter and operations were essentially ended by January 14th.  Over 2100 sea turtles, mostly green with a few loggerheads and a single hawksbill, were retrieved from Mosquito Lagoon and nearby waters.  As the water warms and the turtles revive, they will be released back into the wild.  

Five previous cold-stunned events were recorded in the park area between 1977 and 1989, but the maximum number of sea turtles collected during those events was only 256. Thanks to all who took part in this historic and unprecedented effort to save the endangered sea turtles.