Endangered sea turtles being rehabbed in Charlotte area

Four juvenile green sea turtles are being rehabilitated at a Charlotte-area aquarium after being rescued off the North Carolina coast.

The turtles were cold stunned by a sudden widespread drop in water temperature in January. The young sea turtles were among hundreds this year that missed the southward migration and then were cold stunned.

“As the coastal temperatures drop, turtles, because they’re cold-blooded, they can’t regulate their body temperature,” David Cochran, curator at SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord Aquarium, said in an interview Monday. “The get colder, they get weaker.”

This can cause the turtle to quit swimming which leads to floating, infections, possibly even death.

“Obviously these are an endangered species for a reason. The populations are low and being able to rehab and release these guys is very important for the ecosystem. If there wasn’t intervention, there could likely be a mass loss,” Cochran said.

The rehabilitation process involves slowly warming their water back up, feeding the turtles a healthy, balance diet, a regimen of antibiotics and close monitoring from aquarium staff.

Normally cold-stunned turtles that are rescued stay in aquariums along the coast. Cochran says because of the sheer number of turtles involved this time, this inland aquarium was asked to help out, a first for SEA LIFE Charlotte-Concord Aquarium.

“We kind of had to work on the fly. We received an email from the state veterinarian asking if we could assist on a Monday and on a Thursday, we had these animals,” Cochran said. “It’s a chance to really put our money where our mouth is in terms of conservation and education. It’s a real tangible thing that we’re doing and we’re able to be apart of.”

The four turtles arrived on January 14. Cochran said they expect to house them for the next few weeks before the turtles are sent back to the coast.