Sea turtles that are found stranded help advance the conservation and recovery of endangered sea turtles.
When a nesting or stranded sea turtle is reported, non-profits, government agencies and biologists work to inform the causes of sea turtle strandings by collecting data; documenting wounds and abnormalities; transporting sick and injured sea turtles to permitted rehabilitation facilities; and helping to educate the public about sea turtle conservation. A stranded sea turtle is one that is located washed ashore or floating, alive or dead. If it is alive, it is generally in a weakened condition and may be sick or injured. Live turtles are taken to rehabilitation facilities where they receive care, and usually many of them survive and are ultimately released. Dead turtles are often salvaged for necropsy (post-mortem examination) and study. Samples can be collected from stranded turtles and shipped to requesting investigators for use in research that they are conducting.
When winter approaches and weather and water temperature drops, many communities on our coasts experience hundreds of sea turtles, many of them deceased, washing ashore in our bays. This phenomenon, known as cold stunning, refers to the changes sea turtles experience when they are exposed to cold water for an extended period of time. Because sea turtles are reptiles, they rely on external sources of heat to maintain their body temperatures. When turtles are cold stunned (usually when water temperatures reach 50 degrees and below) they will experience a decrease in heart rate and circulation causing them to become lethargic. Cold stunning may lead to shock, pneumonia, frostbite, and potentially death, as they are not able to migrate to warmer waters. But as turtles head farther north to warmer waters that are the result of human-caused climate change, cold stunnings have become more frequent. With the help of many groups, cold stunned sea turtles can be transported to a rehab facility, placed in a dry tub and evaluated for any other existing health concerns. They will be warmed up slowly and, when appropriate, placed in water and closely monitored by rehab staff. Once fully recovered, the turtles are released.
If you see a sea turtle on the beach, it is important to keep your distance and not disturb the turtle. This includes avoiding flash photography, making loud noises, and ensuring others do not approach the turtle. Give her 30 feet of space as she crawls to the dunes to nest, and as she returns to the water. Be prepared to report the location of the nest and take note of any landmarks to identify the area. Please remember, it is a federal crime to harass or harm a sea turtle. Do not disturb the tracks or the nest cavity and call the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network in your state to report the sighting:
North Carolina: 252-241-7367
South Carolina: 800-922-5431