There has been an alarming amount of loggerhead sea turtles washing up on Texas beaches this year, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service doesn’t know why.
282 turtles appeared on the state’s coastline between April 1 and August 19, and most of them were dead. Those that were still alive were “underweight and emaciated.”
It isn’t uncommon for dead or unhealthy loggerheads to wash up on shore. But from 2012 to 2021, officials only recorded an annual average of 109 animals. This year’s total is more than twice that number.
“This dramatic increase in loggerhead strandings this year is alarming and has STSSN participants on high alert in the Coastal Bend to be ready for the increased influx of incapacitated loggerheads needing immediate rescue and care,” Donna Shaver, Texas Coordinator of the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network, said in a statement.
There are five sea turtle species that live in the Gulf of Mexico, and loggerheads are the most common in U.S. waters. However, the population has been declining over the years due to commercial fishing threats. In 1978, the federal government listed loggerheads as a threatened species.
Scientists have been working hard to find the cause of the strandings. Through autopsies, they’ve ruled out biotoxins, diseases, and fishing gear injuries.
“I think one of the scariest parts, and most concerning parts, is this is still happening,” Amos Rehabilitation Keep’s Senior Outreach Coordinator Alicia Walker told Kris TV. ” We imagined that this was going to be short-lived and we wouldn’t still be seeing this increase in strandings.”
The sea turtles found alive and unhealthy are being rehabilitated. And vets hope to release them back into the water later this year.
Officials Are Asking People to ‘Immediately’ Report all Sea Turtle Strandings
The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service is asking the public to help save more turtles as they continue to wash ashore. If people notice turtles on the beach they should report the stranding.
Loggerheads can weigh as much as 350 pounds. So rescuing one “takes a lot of coordination,” and officials have to work against the clock. The animals can only live outside of the water for about 8 hours. Though they can breathe on land, they eventually dehydrate and die.
“It is therefore critical that citizens report their sightings immediately so that rescue efforts can begin quickly,” Texas-based U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Sea Turtle Coordinator Mary Kay Skoruppa said. “Sometimes there are considerable travel distances to remote areas and other rescues may be happening at the same time. So we ask that people be patient after calling to report a stranded turtle.”