Master Naturalists rescue cold-stunned sea turtles, but more help is needed

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND —  The ongoing rescue of comatose sea turtles stunned by a cold snap in South Texas illustrates the need for volunteers to become Master Naturalists, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service marine expert.

Texas Master Naturalist Jean Petit holds one of many cold-stunned sea turtles rescued recently in South Texas and revived at Sea Turtle Inc. in South Padre Island. Master Naturalist training begins next month in Mission and San Benito.  (AgriLife Extension photo by Tony Reisinger)

Texas Master Naturalist Jean Petit holds one of many cold-stunned sea turtles rescued recently in South Texas and revived at Sea Turtle Inc. in South Padre Island. Master Naturalist training begins next month in Mission and San Benito. (AgriLife Extension photo by Tony Reisinger)

“We need more people in the Texas Master Naturalist Program so they can be trained to respond to emergencies just like the one we’re currently experiencing,” said Tony Reisinger, the AgriLife Extension agent for coastal and marine resources in Cameron County.

Master Naturalists and others have been wading into the waters near South Padre Island to rescue and revive sea turtles stunned by cold temperatures, he said.

“This latest cold front came in so quickly and dropped water temperatures so rapidly in the shallow Laguna Madre that sea turtles didn’t have time to seek deeper, warmer water,” he said. “They go into a comatose state and can drown unless they’re rescued by Master Naturalists and other volunteers who slowly warm them back up to room temperature then release them into deeper waters.”

The Rio Grande Valley Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists will offer training beginning next month at two locations.

Lower Valley classes will be held at the Cameron County Annex Building at Williams Road and State Highway 77/83 in San Benito. Orientation will be from 6-9 p.m. Jan. 8; classes begin Jan. 15.

Upper Valley classes will be held at Bentsen State Park, 2800 S. Bentsen Palm Drive in Mission. Orientation will be from 6-9 p.m. Jan 9. Classes begin Jan. 16.

Enrollment will be limited to 24 participants in each class. The fee for the training is $125.

“This is an invitation to become involved in one of the most exciting environmental programs the Valley has to offer,” Reisinger said. “Participants will be furnished with all the education and training they need to help in the various strategies to restore and conserve our indigenous species and habitats.”

To become a certified Texas Master Naturalist, trainees must fulfill several requirements, including attending a total of 40 hours in training and field trips, provide 40 hours of volunteer services within a year and take a minimum of eight hours of advanced training within a year.

The local chapter started in 2002 and has more than 100 members in the four county area it serves, Reisinger said.

Each trainee can select from a wide variety of approved local projects to volunteer their time, he said. These can include habitat restoration, native plant rescues, native seed collection, school habitats and educational presentations, or they can design a project of their own.

“The mission of this program is to develop and certify a group of well-informed volunteers to provide education, outreach and service dedicated toward the beneficial management of natural resources and natural areas in our community,” Reisinger said.

The sea turtle rescue effort is a perfect example of work Master Naturalists do, he said.

“So far, 87 mostly juvenile green sea turtles have been rescued since this cold front blew in about a week ago. Some of them can weigh up to 50 pounds. And they’ve probably rescued twice that number in the Corpus Christi area.”

The last rescue of cold-stunned sea turtles in this area occurred in 2010.

“While we’re thankful for all the efforts of volunteers in this ongoing rescue, volunteers feel a tremendous amount of gratification and accomplishment when they rescue these beautiful creatures,” he said. “But we can always use more people trained as Master Naturalists because we have a large and invaluable ecosystem down here to steward.”

For more information, contact Reisinger at 956-361-8236 or go to http://rgvctmn.org/next_class.htm .

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