RIVERHEAD, N.Y. - Over 30 turtles are thawing out at the New York Marine Rescue Center. Warm waters followed by sudden cold snaps during the months of November and December caused them to get stranded in record numbers last year.
"Our team actually rescued 85 sea turtles that stranded throughout New York," rescue program director Maxine Montello said. "In the past, we've seen numbers in the 40s, which used to be high for us, so we actually surpassed what our new normal is now."
Marine experts say turtles including the Atlantic green, loggerheads, and critically endangered Kemp's Ridley typically travel to Long Island to forage for food in the summer months. It goes south when they miss their cue to migrate. Dramatic decreases in water temperature cause them to become lethargic and eventually wash ashore.
Rescued turtles are given round-the-clock care in special climate-controlled rooms. Each one is numbered to track its progress.
New York Marine Center said that rehabilitating one sea turtle costs about $10,000. That covers their special diet, medicine, water quality, and overall care. They stay here for three months or longer depending on their condition. The center receives some small grants but overall relies on private donations to operate.
"We just need to keep on dedicating ourselves to the conversation of the species to ensure their population is maintained," Montello said.
Specially trained volunteers say leave the rescuing to them. Warming a turtle too quickly could easily do more harm than good.