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Panama City Beach (CBSMiami) – The winter chill that’s gripping much of the nation has stretched all the way down to the Florida panhandle.
But humans aren’t the only ones suffering. The cold puts reptiles, like sea turtles, into a comatose state.
In the unusually cold waters of Florida’s St. Joe Bay an urgent rescue mission is underway.
Scientists and law enforcement officers joined forces to scoop up hundreds of sea turtles floating in the water, stunned by the cold and fighting for their lives.
These endangered sea turtles go into a comatose state when water temperatures drop below 50 degrees.
So with the help of volunteers, rescuers loaded them in crates and pickup trucks and took them to their next home.
Secret Holmes-Douglas is director of Gulf World Marine Institute.
Her team took in more than 850 cold stunned sea turtles since the first week of january.
“It started out really slow,” Holmes-Douglas explained. “We had 19 on the first day and by the third we had about 200 and by Friday and Saturday and Sunday we were over 800. It happened really quickly.
“It is a lot of turtles and it can be very overwhelming however we do get a large amount of support from all over the United States.”
The turtles are brought back to life in temperature-controlled kiddie pools where they are carefully monitored by veteranaian Julie Cavin.
“We’ll check their flippers, feel for any swelling or abnormalities that might indicate broken bones,” Cavin explained.
As for why it’s so important to save these animals, Holmes-Douglas gives a simple explaination.
“We’re dealing with endangered and threatened species,” she said. “So if we are not involved with this rescue effort then it can be detrimental to the population.
Odds are also stacked against many other animals battling the cold in the south this winter.
Florida manatees, considered a threatened species, are seen huddled together in canals and springs to stay warm.
In North Carolina, alligators trapped in frozen ponds were spotted poking their noses through the ice.
And residents in South Florida woke up to the sight of frozen iguanas falling from trees, laying unconscious on the ground.
Catherine Phillips is with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“We’re seeing a number of organisms that are experiencing stress and illness and mortality from what I would say is an extreme weather event,” said Dr. Phillips. “These efforts to rehabilitate or recover them continue to help us move forward to be able to ensure these organisms are around for future generations so that our grandchildren’s grandchildren will be able to experience these on Earth.”
This winter could present even more cold snaps and that would be a particular challenge for rescue and rehab centers like this, they say as long as they are needed, they will keep continuing the effort.