Houston Zoo releases rehabilitated cold-stunned turtles into Gulf

The Houston Zoo introduced rehabilitated Kemp’s ridley sea turtles back to the ocean on March 20 following several months of care. 

In December, 120 sea turtles found "cold-stunned" in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, were flown to Texas for rehabilitation, the zoo said. 14 of those endangered turtles were released into the Gulf of Mexico at Galveston by Houston Zoo veterinary staff on March 20.

Houston Zoo said six other turtles were released the same day in Grapevine from Texas A&M University at Galveston’s Gulf Center for Sea Turtle Research and from SEA LIFE Aquarium.


Houston Zoo VP of Animal Operations Lisa Marie Avendano called the release a "culmination of many weeks of hard work." "It really is a shared ocean, and we were so grateful to be able to support the sea turtle community in New England when they needed help with the large cold-stunning event," Avendano wrote in a press release.

Three turtles remain in special care as they continue recovering from fungal pneumonia, the zoo said.This isn't the first time that cold-stunned turtles have been released back into warmer waters recently. 1,700 sea turtles were released back into Gulf waters in February following the record-setting storm that pummeled Texas and cold-stunned thousands of the endangered or threatened creatures.

Other rescue organizations have also been releasing the turtles back into the water, including Sea Turtle Inc. in South Padre Island, which said they took in more than 5,000 reptiles.


When the water dips below 50 degrees, turtles become incapacitated and risk drowning from being unable to lift their heads to breathe, experts said.

Sea turtles are one of the most iconic animals found in the area of South Padre Island. It’s also the only location in Texas where nests from all five of the sea turtle species that live in the Gulf of Mexico have been found — and all of these are listed under the Endangered Species Act as "endangered" or "threatened."