Two green sea turtles recovering from cold stun at Roanoke Island Aquarium STAR Center.

349 and counting. That’s how many cold stunned turtles have been taken to the STAR Center at the Roanoke Island Aquarium. Added to the Aquarium two years ago, the STAR Center is a sea turtle research and treatment facility.

And right now it’s being taxed to its limit by a never-before-seen number of cold stunned sea turtles. There are bins and buckets filled with water everywhere as sea turtles—mostly green turtles, but a few Kemps Ridley’s and loggerhead as well—shocked by the sudden dip in temperature earlier this week have filled every nook and cranny of the facility.

Christian Legner, who leads the Aquarium sea turtle effort thinks there are so many stunned turtles because they didn’t leave the area during our abnormally warm December and when the cold weather hit it was too late for them to leave.

The process of getting them back to the water is fairly straightforward; for  the most part it’s waiting for their coldblooded metabolism to adjust to the warmer temperature of the Center and then get them back into the water. 

Of course getting 300+ turtles into water warm enough for them to survive is a task all its own. The first group have already been put on a truck and sent off to Florida. The Coast Guard at Fort Macon, NC has agreed to take another 85 out to the Gulf Stream on Monday. That only leaves another 200 or so turtles to release.

For the most part the turtles are in good health, and after a few days of rehab are able to be released again.

Almost all of the turtles came from Hatteras Island and were initially picked up by N.E.S.T. (Network for Endangered Sea Turtles) volunteers and NPS employees who were combing the beach looking for cold stunned turtles.