MANTEO, N.C. (WNCT) Eighteen cold stunned sea turtles are being treated at the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island.
“What that means is we see a lot of sea turtles that stick around in our sound here on the Outer Banks and they exhibit signs of hypothermia,” said Amber Hitt, the STAR Center manager.
The turtles are treated for secondary infections, respiratory infections and minor abrasions and wounds.
When the turtles arrive at the center, they go through an intake exam similar to what you might see at a doctors office.
The staff at the STAR Center take the turtles temperature and a blood sample in addition to checking for further injuries.
“We have to warm them up about five degrees a day or else their body will kind of start going against them and working against them and making them even more sick,” said Hitt.
There are different rooms with varying degrees of warmth the the sea turtles are moved through as treatment progresses.
According to Hitt, it can take anywhere from two weeks to a few months to rehabilitate a turtle so it can be released back into the ocean.
The season for cold stunned turtles is just beginning and will run through March.
Right now the center has six loggerhead sea turtles, one Kemp’s ridley (the most endangered species of sea turtles, according to Hitt), and 11 green sea turtles.
Hitt says during a cold stun season, hundreds of turtles can be brought in.
“Last year we had 75 patients total, I think, and then a few years ago we actually had about 600 turtles,” said Hitt. “It all depends on the season, the weather and how quickly the turtles turn around and get out of the sound.”
The STAR Center has been open since 2014 and has grown into a large operation for stranded sea turtles.
They take in sick or injured turtles in need of rehabilitation.
“We have two major seasons,” said Hitt. “The one that we’re in right now which is cold stun season and then in the spring and summer when there’s more boat traffic and more people out on the water we typically see some hook ingestions and fisheries interactions and boat strikes…things of that nature.”
The center is currently preparing for what could come this season.