PADRE ISLAND, Texas — Sea turtles are the latest victims of the winter storms and freezing temperatures in Texas, but rescue efforts from volunteers like Bowling Green native and naval officer Susan Johnson are giving 300 of them a fighting chance.
Freezing sea turtles started showing up on the Padre Island beach Thursday.
Johnson was part of the volunteer effort working with Sea Turtle Inc. of South Padre Island. She is a 2015 Bowling Green High School graduate and 2019 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and on active duty, while part of U.S. Navy Pilot training in Corpus Christi, Texas.
She used her truck to help with the turtle rescue, moving them to a heated warehouse at the Naval Air Station Corpus Christi. Johnson then stood on “turtle watch” Thursday night to insure the safety of the sea creatures that she loves.
Due to the extreme cold, the turtles were at risk of dying. The reptiles start shutting down into a cold comatose state, which makes them easy targets for predators and if it’s cold enough they can also freeze. Padre Island National Seashore is a protected area with beaches that are a sheltering area for rare Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. They are considered an endangered species and possibly the rarest of sea turtles. They grow up to 100 pounds in weight with a shell 2 feet in length.
“A lot of them, a large majority, are surviving,” Laura Johnson, Susan’s mother said. “They are keeping them warm. It’s definitely a rescue. I think they are are hoping to release them after four days, but for some of them, it’s been too hard on them.”
When Susan was attending Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, to complete her Master of Aerospace Engineering degree last year, sea turtles would join her while she was SCUBA diving in Monterey Bay. Laura said she loves swimming with the peaceful turtles.
“She’s got a real soft spot for the turtles,” Laura said.
Like many living on Padre Island, Susan has been without electricity for four days. She has also been without water, due to a water main break.
Average temperatures in February on Padre Island are around 60 degrees and residents have been dealing with below freezing temperatures for days. Temperatures are expected to be back up to the low 60s this weekend.
This is Susan’s second natural disaster in less than a year. She was stationed in Pensacola, Floria, when Hurricane Sally hit in September. Due to flooding and wind damage, Susan lost the beach front condo, and also lost her car to the hurricane. She was without power and water for four days until her condo was condemned, Laura said. It was after that experience that she bought the pickup truck that volunteers used to transport the turtles.