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Cold-stunned turtles being treated at NC Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores

(Nicole Griffin, NewsChannel 12 photo)

PINE KNOLL SHORES, Carteret County - This time of year is when we hear about a lot of aquariums in our area treating cold-stunned turtles.

The turtles need rescuing and rehabilitation as their bodies react harshly to the drastic changes in the weather along the coast. Aquariums at Roanoke Island and Kure Beach have been taking in turtles and helping them recover. Add the Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores to the mix, too.

The aquarium is caring for 17 sea turtles caught by the drop in temperatures. Kemp's ridley sea turtles from the New England Aquarium and juvenile green sea turtles, which were found along the Crystal Coast, are currently being treated.

Aquarist Sonia Carlson and other employees at the Pine Knoll Shores aquarium are hard at work, helping the turtles recover.

"When the temperature drops quickly, it stuns the turtles," Carlson said. "They stop eating, they stop swimming, everything in their body slows down and they'll most of the time just float and let the currents carry them."

The turtles have been in rehab since Thanksgiving. Each is monitored closely and fed its favorite food like mackerel or shrimp. The results of that care are starting to show.

"The ones that are underweight, we feed them, get them back up to an acceptable weight determined by our veterinarians and then we will coordinate a release but others do come in sick and need medication, antibiotics and thinks like that," Carlson said.

Some of the turtles, like the Kemp's ridley ones are endangered. Others, like the green sea turtles, are threatened. That makes this rescue effort important for the survival of the species.

"This age they are really about a year old, so they've got 20, maybe 30 more years to go before they become reproductive," Carlson said. "So if they can't make it past that first year, it's going to make it a lot harder for future generations of turtles to be born."

Luckily, many of these turtles were just given a clean bill of health and will soon be released into the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, where they belong. All the turtles will be tagged before they are released. That way, if they are ever stunned again, all of their information will already be on file.

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