CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas –
Cold water temperatures in the Corpus Christi Bay surrounding Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, proved too cold for endangered green sea turtles as a major winter cold front swept through Texas Feb. 15-18. When the water reached a low of 31 degrees Fahrenheit Feb. 17, 20 degrees lower than the turtles can tolerate, many NAS Corpus Christi community members volunteered during off-duty time to rescue the “cold-stunned” turtles from the freezing water.
“It was so inspiring to see so many people who wanted to help,” said Defense Logistics Agency Corpus Christi, Texas, Commander, Army Lt. Col. Justin McGovern. “We had military, civilians, retirees, even families with small children come to support the rescue effort. Many of these volunteers did not even have electricity or water in their homes but they were willing to sacrifice to help these animals. It was truly amazing to see the entire NAS Corpus Christi community pull together for a common goal."
Krystle Ordaz, DDCT employee and veteran, heard the initial outcry for help through the NAS Corpus Christi spouse support Facebook page, and began reaching out to DDCT employees for help.
As Navy, Coast Guard and other divers in wet suits pulled drowning sea turtles from the bay onboard NAS Corpus Christi, Ordaz jumped in the water with a net and began pulling the sea turtles to safety. Community members and base employees loaded the sea turtles into personal vehicles and took them to a Navy public works building on base. However, the unheated building wasn’t warm enough for the turtles, and the building was quickly reaching maximum capacity.
NAS Commander, Navy Capt. Christopher Jason reached out to DDCT for assistance and use of the organization’s heated space. With operations at a halt due to the inclement weather, DDCT was able to oblige. McGovern and DDCT Deputy Commander, Jeremy Beckwith and families immediately jumped in to assist in the efforts.
Navy Environmental Services provided rolls of oil absorbent material to protect both the turtles and the facility floors, while trucks of volunteers began unloading the turtles into DDCT’s receiving bay.
The sea turtles with visible injuries were separated from the non-injured turtles and all were handled with the upmost care. In addition, Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission led the efforts, providing direction to volunteers on the proper handling of the turtles.
By the end of the day, approximately 500 rescued sea turtles were housed in DDCT’s receiving bay. The turtles required 24-hour care and observation, including keeping their eyes moist with water. As they started to warm up, some of the turtles got adventurous, trying to move into other parts of the warehouse bay. A squadron of Navy pilots in training stepped up and volunteered to take on overnight turtle watch shifts.
The next day, more community members and DDCT employees in off-duty status showed up in the early morning hours to assist with care. The Texas Park and Wildlife Commission arranged for the transfer of the sea turtles to the Texas State Aquarium and the Texas National Seashore rehabilitation unit. The volunteers formed a chain and began loading the turtles into cargo trucks to be transported to their next destination.
DDCT employee Maria Barker and her sister Kassidy helped in the rescue effort. "This is the most wonderful and most satisfying event I have ever been part of. I love working for DLA; the team comes together and always goes the extra mile,” said Barker.
As volunteers moved sea turtles from the warehouse floor, more were rescued from the Laguna Madre lagoon surrounding the base and delivered to the warehouse for a ride to the rescue facilities. DDCT employees and their families, along with help from volunteers from many other agencies, provided constant care for the turtles, until every turtle had been transferred.
Volunteers cleaned and sanitized the warehouse floor, under the direction of the base fire department and Navy Environmental Services. Donated supplies and “elbow grease” were used to ensure DDCT was ready to return to business as usual the following morning without delay.
In total, DDCT employees helped rescue and house 741 sea turtles. The certified turtle rescuers on-site said this was a very successful rescue as they rarely see large scale civilian efforts yield this many survivors. The Texas State Aquarium recently provided an update to McGovern, indicating there was about a 90% survival rate, which is high for this type of a rescue effort. The aquarium transported some of the larger turtles from the aquarium to a Coast Guard ship for release about four nautical miles offshore. The water temperature that far offshore is warm enough to support some of the larger turtles, freeing up space in the tank for smaller turtles to recover, allowing for future release.