About 90 green sea turtles that nearly died from a sudden cold snap last month have been rehabilitated and returned to the waters near South Padre Island.
Scores of volunteers carried the comatose turtles from the beaches and surf during the dramatic rescue. Temperatures in the Laguna Madre bay had dropped 30 degrees in 48 hours during a January weekend, and at least 130 turtles stunned from the cold were rescued the following week. Seven were found dead.
The turtles overwhelmed the tank space at the island's nonprofit Sea Turtle, Inc. turtle rescue agency and the University of Texas-Pan American Coastal Studies Lab, so some were trucked 180 miles to an aquarium and a fish hatchery in the Corpus Christi area.
Jeff George, curator at Sea Turtle Inc., said 42 were released Tuesday and 46 were released Wednesday. He said the ones that remained were still on antibiotics and would be returned to South Padre waters during the summer, equipped with satellite transmitters to help researchers study migration patterns.
He said it had been time to return the turtles to their habitat, and water temperatures are warmer off South Padre Island than near Corpus Christi.
"Turtles don't get along very well in confined areas and I'm sure they had turtles nipping on other turtles," he said.
George said researchers' interest was piqued by the wash-up of some unusually large turtles.
"We don't usually see greens in the 200-pound range in the Laguna Madre," he said. "It means they're close to sexual maturity and should be migrating back to beaches in southern Mexico."
Green turtles are born in southern Mexico and spend their early years feeding on turtle grass in shallow areas such as the Laguna Madre.
They return to Mexican waters when they are mature and can grow to 500 pounds.