A Kemp's ridley was found in Surfside tangled up in balloon strings along with other trash
This Kemp's ridley was found on the beach connected to the lid of a trashcan by a shoelace
NOAA staff work to free this sea turtle's flipper from string entangling the turtle with the lid of a trash can
The veterinary team at the Houston Zoo assesses a sea turtle brought into the clinic for care last week
In 2017 the Houston Zoo provided care for 80 stranded or injured sea turtles
Though you may not see them all the time, Texas is full of unique animals. Some, like sea turtles are with us year round, but your chances of spotting one in the wild are much higher during the summer which is sea turtle nesting season! There are 5 species of sea turtles inhabiting the Gulf of Mexico, all of which are considered to be either threatened or endangered. They include the Kemp’s ridley, green, leatherback, Atlantic hawksbill, and loggerhead sea turtles.
One of the main threats that sea turtles face is plastic pollution that ends up in our waterways, eventually working its way into the ocean. Just last week our partners at NOAA Fisheries responded to four calls of sea turtles in need of rescue. Two of these sea turtles were accidentally caught by fishermen – a large loggerhead at Seawolf Park, and a small Kemp’s ridley at 61st Street Pier. The other two sea turtles recovered by NOAA were entangled in plastic debris. A Kemp’s ridley was found in Surfside Thursday morning tangled up in balloon strings along with other trash, and yet another Kemp’s ridley was found on the beach connected to the lid of a trashcan by a shoelace. Many of these turtles were brought to the Houston Zoo, where our veterinary team was able to perform hook removals and provide health check-ups before NOAA took them back to Galveston. Luckily all of these sea turtles are expected to make full recoveries at NOAA’s facility, where they will remain until they are healthy enough to be released back into the wild. On average, the Houston Zoo provides care to 80 stranded or injured sea turtles a year – that’s over 500 turtles since 2010!
Thanks to the hard work of many local organizations, our once decreasing sea turtle population is on a slow path to recovery, but we need your help to keep them safe. You can help sea turtles in a number of ways, but the biggest action you can take is to help reduce the amount of plastic that makes it into the ocean! Here are some tips:
Blow bubbles not balloons! Remember, every balloon that is released into the outdoors will eventually find its way back to the ground – bubbles are a safe and fun alternative.
Taking a stroll on the beach? Bring a bag with you and pick up trash as you walk along the shore
Reduce your plastic use! Opt for reusable shopping bags and water bottles whenever possible.
Try going plastic straw free the next time you dine out – simply tell your waiter you would like to skip the straw.
And remember, if you accidentally catch or spot a sea turtle on the beach, call 1-866-TURTLE-5. Thanks for helping to save sea turtles in the wild!
If you do catch a sea turtle, don't worry! Call 1-866-TURTLE- 5 and someone will come to help get the turtle to safety. Here, Dr. Flanagan works to remove a hook from a Kemp's ridley sea turtle that came into the clinic last Thursday
This Kemp's ridley will be released back into the wild after a successful hook removal
In 2017 the Houston Zoo provided care for 80 stranded or injured sea turtles
Recycle your broken or damaged fishing line in a bin like this one to save sea turtles!
Houston Zoo staff and volunteers removed over 1,500 pounds of trash and recycling from Surfside Jetty in 2017.
Bags of fishing line collected from Texas City Dike in December, 2017
Spring has finally sprung here in Texas, and Texans much like the rest of the animal kingdom are emerging from their winter hideouts to embrace the sunshine. For many, clear skies and warm weather are an invitation to leave the city and make a break for the coast – after all, who doesn’t want to spend a gorgeous day at the beach playing in the water or trying to land that perfect catch? What you may not know is that it isn’t just humans flocking to Texas beaches this spring, it is sea turtles too! April marks the beginning of nesting season, which means a heightened presence of Kemp’s ridley and green sea turtles is likely as summer approaches. A trip to the beach for our endangered friends is not always as pleasant as our trips as they are faced with many threats including plastic left in the water and on land, but luckily we have some simple ways to help make their journey safer so they continue to call Texas home for many years to come!
We want to do everything we can to help save sea turtles, but we need your help! Here are four easy ways you can become a sea turtle superhero:
If you accidentally catch or spot a sea turtle on the beach, call 1-866-TURTLE-5
Going fishing? Place any broken or unusable line in a monofilament recycling bin – line is recycled and made into products like tackle boxes!
Taking a stroll on the beach? Bring a bag with you and pick up trash as you walkalong the shore
Visit the zoo! Just by purchasing a ticket to the zoo you are helping to save sea turtles in the wild by supporting efforts like those mentioned below:
Here at the Houston Zoo, we work to save sea turtles in a number of ways. Every Monday, a member of our staff assists our partners at NOAA Fisheries with their weekly sea turtle surveys. Additionally, some sea turtles NOAA picks up when they receive a call are in need of medical care. These turtles are brought here to our vet clinic where Dr. Joe Flanagan and his team will take xrays, administer medications, perform hook extractions, and anything else the turtle may need. The sea lion team has been organizing and running monthly clean-ups at Surfside Jetty since 2014. Houston Zoo staff and volunteers spend an entire day down at the mile-long jetty picking up trash, recycling, and fishing line to help ensure that this debris is properly disposed of so it doesn’t end up in the ocean where it becomes a threat to animals like sea turtles.
The newest project we are involved in is in partnership with members from the Audubon Texas Coastal Program, Galveston Bay Area Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists, and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality -Galveston Bay Estuary Program. This team identified discarded fishing line as one of the biggest threats to wildlife like sea turtles and pelicans, and devised a plan to help solve this problem by working directly with members of the community! The Texas City Dike (TCD) was selected as the area the group wanted to work in because of its reputation as a prime, year-round fishing spot. Once this study area was chosen, the group decided that the next step would be to take a trip to the dike, and collect discarded fishing line from specific locations to see just how much line was present. This collection of line took place on December 4th of last year and thanks to an amazing team of volunteers, we were able to collect a total of 21.9 pounds of fishing line from TCD. Since then, the team has made trips to some of our region’s most popular fishing locations and have conducted surveys with over 200 anglers in order to learn more about their current fishing line containment and disposal practices. From this data, we will come up with several potential messages to test with a focus group of anglers to see what resonates best with them to encourage the recycling of fishing line.
Over the past two days, teams from Moody Gardens, the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Texas Master Naturalists, Turtle Island Restoration Network, NOAA Fisheries, and the Houston Zoo met down in Galveston to help prep cold-stunned sea turtles for a journey down to South Padre Island.
Almost 250 sea turtles are being transported from Galveston over 400 miles to an area off the coast where waters are warm enough for them to be safely released.
Volunteers work together to load one of the largest turtles onto the truck for transport.
How many sea turtles can you fit in the back of a 24-foot long Budget truck? 72 to be exact!
Volunteers form an assembly line as turtles come out of the barn where their flipper tag identification is recorded and they are placed in a container for traveling purposes.
A photo of turtles ready for transport is snapped on the second day of this cooperative effort.
Volunteers pose for a photo before the truck carrying 82 green sea turtles departed for South Padre Island, Texas.
As we rang in the new year, 2018 treated a large portion of the US to a dose of chilly weather. While we Texans in the southern part of the state normally escape the winter months untouched, last week surprised us with a rapid decrease in temperature, with some areas dropping below freezing. Most of us are able to turn on our heaters and survive the cooler temperatures with relative ease, but our friends in the wild are not always as lucky. This is especially true of sea turtles that rely on the environment and warmth of the sun to regulate their body temperature.
Known for their resiliency, with species dating back to the time of dinosaurs, sea turtles have managed to survive despite the many obstacles thrown in front of them throughout history. As a cold-blooded species living in the ocean, these turtles have adapted to live in tropical or semi-tropical waters which helps to keep their bodies warm. Typically, sea turtles can do just fine during cold spells as long as they are far enough away from shore where water temperatures are at or above 55 degrees, but if temperatures drop very quickly, there is not always time to move away from land. This causes what we call “cold-stunning”, which is very similar to hypothermia in people. Sea turtles experiencing the side-effects of cold-stunning have a slowed heart rate, which decreases circulation and makes it very difficult for them to swim or find food. Cold-stunning is seen most often in our area with green sea turtles that like to hang out in shallow waters in the bays where they can easily feed off of vegetation on the ocean floor. With the onslaught of cold temperatures last week, 305 green sea turtles were rescued on the Upper Texas Coast, with over 2,000 total rescued along the Texas Coast. This was the highest number seen in our area to date, and getting these turtles to safety required the quick-action, hard-work, and dedication of organizations and community members from nearby cities.
Groups worked tirelessly to collect, examine, and care for turtles as they arrived at sea turtle facilities, with our own team of veterinarians joining our partners at NOAA fisheries in Galveston over the weekend to assess the health of the rescued turtles. With warmer water in South Texas, the decision was made to drive the healthy turtles to South Padre for release. How exactly do you transport almost 250 sea turtles to a destination over 400 miles away? On a truck!
Over the past two days, teams from Moody Gardens, the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Texas Master Naturalists, Turtle Island Restoration Network, NOAA Fisheries, Texas A&M and the Houston Zoo met down in Galveston before sunrise to transport turtles from their holding tanks into containers which were then loaded into the back of a truck that the NOAA team would drive to South Padre. Yesterday 72 sea turtles made their trip south, where they and the NOAA team were greeted by staff and volunteers that helped to get the turtles off of the truck and into the ocean for release. Once the NOAA team returned the turtles to the wild, they hopped back in their truck and made the trek back to Galveston in order to repeat the process all over again the next day. By 8am this morning, our collective group had another 82 turtles loaded up and ready to go. A second truck carrying 93 sea turtles being held at Moody Gardens was also prepped for the drive down south. The turtles should be close to reaching their destination by now, and will be released back into the wild later this afternoon. It is truly amazing what we can accomplish when we come together as a team to reach a common goal. We wish our sea turtle friends the best of luck as they head back out to sea, and we are grateful for the opportunity to be part of a community that comes together to protect wildlife.
If temperatures drop quickly in our area, please be on the lookout for cold-stunned turtles in the bay. If you find one, please report it immediately by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5.
Aquarium staff members Becky and Denise release the green sea turtle they helped rehabilitate in the Kipp Aquarium
The Foster family with the green sea turtle they rescued from the ship channel
Houston Zoo and NOAA staff with a Kemp's ridley sea turtle, ready for release!
Through our partnership with NOAA Galveston’s sea turtle conservation program, the Houston Zoo spent the last several months rehabilitating a green sea turtle in our Kipp Aquarium. Last Tuesday, the green sea turtle was successfully released into the Bay! NOAA Galveston responds to sea turtle strandings on the Upper Texas Coast, and when medical support and/or rehabilitation support is needed for a stranded animal, the Houston Zoo is proud to work alongside NOAA to provide this care.
Three other turtles were released last Tuesday afternoon, including an injured turtle that was found by the Foster family in the ship channel. The Foster’s reported the turtle to NOAA by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5, and the family was able to assist in its release after the turtle recovered from its injuries. Thanks to local community members like the Fosters, this turtle lived to be rehabilitated and released back into the ocean.
You can ensure Texas sea turtles are protected by reporting any injured or accidentally caught turtle to 1-866-TURTLE-5. Additionally, you can reduce your use of plastic to prevent trash from ending up in our waters, which sea turtles may mistake for food and eat. The Houston Zoo has gone plastic bottle and plastic bag free, and you can too! Try switching to reusable water bottles and fabric shopping bags to reduce your plastic consumption. Find out more about our efforts to reduce plastic pollution here.
This blog post was written by Heather Crane, a Houston Zoo staff member in our Sea Lion Department. The sea turtle release described below would not have been possible without prominent sea turtle conservationists at NOAA Galveston who provided all care and support to rehabilitate the sea turtles mentioned in this blog.
On October 30, 2016 a group of volunteers and I were at a scheduled Sea Lion team Surfside Jetty cleanup when we discovered an entangled green sea turtle. Cleanups are executed monthly by the Houston Zoo Sea Lion Team. Through a partnership between the Houston Zoo and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), fishing line is removed to prevent wildlife entanglement and pollution. We notified NOAA of the entangled sea turtle by calling the sea turtle hotline at 1-866-TURTLE-5. While we waited on a NOAA scientist to arrive, the turtle became more entangled and appeared distressed. My worst fear started playing out before me: this endangered turtle was drowning. Help was still 30 minutes from arriving. I made the decision to enter the water to disentangle and retrieve the sea turtle. My team of volunteers stood close by to assist and ensure my safety. Our Conservation Intern of the time, Taylor Rhoades, also entered the water to free me when my shoes also became entangled in fishing line. The in-water dangers that exist pose a threat and it is not recommended that members of the public enter the water. NOAA biologist, Lyndsey Howell, arrived and removed the fishing line that was tightly wound around the front left flipper of the turtle. She took the green turtle to the Galveston Sea Turtle Facility to begin what would become a seven month rehabilitation and recovery.
On Friday, May 19th, the sea lion team was invited to watch the rescued green sea turtle be released back into its natural habitat. This was an unexpected surprise and a very special and generous invitation from NOAA, which will forever have an impact on my life. NOAA was scheduled to release five green sea turtles on Friday. I was surprised when we were told our team would help release some of the turtles. We got a lesson from the biologists, Lyndsey and Heather, on safe handling and release practices before being allowed to release the turtles. I took the first turtle to the water and when it touched the surface of the water, it knew exactly what to do. I watched it until it disappeared into the water about 15 feet in front of me. Next, my supervisor, Sophie Darling, took a turn releasing a turtle too. After four turtles were released, the only one that remained was the turtle I had rescued in October.
The surprises just kept coming. Not only would I have the opportunity to watch the turtle I rescued go home, I was also going to be the one to release him! I had never imagined I would be part of this endangered animal’s story, and certainly never thought I would see the full circle process. When I peered in to the container in which the turtle had been transported, it appeared healthy and active. And WOW! It had doubled in size too! I would recognize this turtle anywhere, even if it had doubled in size. The posterior edge of the shell had a small hole in it when I first encountered it in October. Additionally, due to the tight fishing line that was wrapped around the front left flipper, there was distinctive line entanglement scarring. As I walked towards the water, I stopped to take a picture with the turtle before wishing it farewell and good luck. As I waded out into the shallows, I only felt excitement. I think I was still in shock that NOAA had included me in this turtle’s journey. I lowered the turtle to the water and it took just a moment for it to start swimming. First, it swam backwards, which both confused and humored me, but then, it swam gracefully away towards the deeper water. As I watched, I could think of fewer greater moments of joy in my life.
The Houston Zoo has empowered me to take an active role in conservation of wild animals. The Houston Zoo’s partnerships with NOAA and other conservation organizations are invaluable and are what make our conservation programming successful. I feel proud to know that this is only one example of how the Houston Zoo lives its mission of saving animals in the wild. Many people have thanked me and have told me how I impacted the life of the green sea turtle I rescued that day. In the end, we both impacted each other. When I reflect upon proud moments of my life and career, this experience will always be amongst the experiences of which I am most proud. I am proud, too, to be a part of team dedicated to ensuring clean waterways through the dedication of time and energy every month to cleaning the Surfside Jetty. And I could not be more thankful to NOAA and all the work they do to rescue, rehabilitate, and release these beautiful and endangered turtles.
To watch a short video of the green sea turtle being released, please visit: Sea turtle release
You can help protect sea turtles in Texas by disposing of fishing line properly. Place fishing line in designated monofilament recycling bins, or take it home with you and dispose of it in your trash so it does not blow into the ocean where animals like sea turtles, fish, dolphins, and birds can become entangled.
As part of our efforts to save sea turtles in the wild, Houston Zoo staff have the opportunity to participate in weekly beach surveys conducted by the National Marine Fisheries Service-National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Galveston. NOAA biologists conduct weekly beach surveys to look for dead, stranded, injured, or nesting sea turtles, respond to reports from the 1-866-TURTLE-5 hotline, and collect fishing line from the Surfside Jetty. Below is a summary of one Houston Zoo employees’ experience, Brenda Rico, part of our Call Center team.
My experience out with Lyndsey [NOAA biologist] was great, really thankful for having an opportunity like that. On my survey experience I was able to see what the turtle hospital looks like and just how many of them they [NOAA] care for. I was able to assist Lyndsey in keeping records of the GPS coordinates in case we ran into a turtle that maybe needed rescue. I was also able to assist with recording data on a dead sea turtle we found over at Bolivar Peninsula. A really neat thing that I got to experience was witnessing two necropsies that she performed, to determine how these turtles died, what type of diet they had, and where they were consuming their food from. I learned that turtles can easily drown with fishing line that fishermen might accidentally leave behind, they can grow to be up to 1,000 lbs and they don’t develop fully until adulthood that’s when you are able to identify their sex. We probably went down the beach roughly around 70 miles and at the end of the survey we got to rescue a pelican!
During this sea turtle survey, Brenda also had the chance to release a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle that had been rehabilitated by NOAA.
You can help save sea turtles by ensuring your fishing line always ends up in a proper recycling bin. Discarded fishing line can entangle sea turtles, making it difficult for them to swim, find food, and come up for air. You can also help by reporting any sea turtles in our area by calling 1-866-TURTLE-5.
On Thursday May 26, NOAA Fisheries and the Houston Zoo released nine sea turtles at Stewart Beach in Galveston, Texas surrounded by hundreds of onlookers.
Six of the turtles are Kemp’s ridleys, the other three are loggerheads. All but one of the turtles suffered injuries related to fishing interactions when they were accidentally caught and swallowed fishing hooks.
The degree of rehabilitation and length of stay at the NOAA sea turtle facility in Galveston varied, ranging from one week to nine months. Call 1-866-TURTLE-5 to report an injured sea turtle.
Every month, Houston Zoo staff assist the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with their weekly beach surveys, looking for stranded, injured, or nesting sea turtles. We drive the beach, sometimes for more than 10 hours searching for turtles that need help, and respond to calls to the sea turtle hotline (1.866.TURTLE.5).
This past Monday, we had the pleasure of releasing 9 sea turtles during the weekly survey! 3 Kemp’s ridleys were successfully released after being rehabilitated at NOAA’s Galveston Laboratory. They all came in, caught on fishermen’s hooks. Houston Zoo veterinary staff provided medical care for these turtles to ensure their speedy recovery.
Later in the afternoon, we released 6 green sea turtles into the bay. These turtles stranded for a variety of reasons, but one was found entangled in fishing line and plastic bags.
NOAA and the Houston Zoo worked together to provide medical care to this green sea turtle as it was rehabilitated in Galveston. Thankfully, it made a full recovery and was able to go back to the wild.
Everyone can play a role in saving sea turtles. Ensure that our local turtles do not get caught in plastic bags by making the switch to reusable fabric bags every time you go to the grocery store. This is an easy way to be a marine animal hero!
The Houston Zoo is excited to welcome a new intern who comes to us all the way from Kenya, in East Africa. Gilbert Sabinga is in the United States as participating in the Community College Initiative Program (CCIP). The Community College Initiative Program is a program of the U.S. Department of State, administered by Northern Virginia Community College on behalf of the Community College Consortium (CCC) in partnership with Houston Community College. While participating in this program, he will join us at the zoo as an intern to learn all about what a modern-day zoo is like! Sabinga is already part of the conservation community as he has been working with Save the Elephants in Kenya for over 8 years. He will be documenting his experiences at the Zoo and we will share his thoughts with you here on our blog!
Houston Zoo is the nature in it’s wildest. Every day coming to the zoo it offers me a new chance to get up close from wildlife around the world, and learn close facts about the animals. This time I was introduced to toads!!!! The little I knew about the toads is valuable part of our outdoor heritage. Most of people probably don’t give them much thought, and rarely credit what we consider lesser life not with emotions big as ours; but we need these amphibians to control destructive insects and to offer their voices to the sounds of spring and summer nights. Just hearing or seeing them adds to our enjoyment of outdoor joy and makes our environment beautiful. I visited and got to help in the toad department under the instruction of Tyler Parker, who never get tired of me asking questions about toads. He really taught me much on toads and expanded my knowledge about the toads especially Houston toads.
Today, with species threatened and habitats disappearing worldwide, the Houston Zoo is playing a new role in conservation: the Zoo is expanding their efforts far beyond keeping animals alive in captivity. An example of this is the toad quarantine facility that serves as a location for captive breeding and head- starting of Houston toads eggs stand for release in to the wild, and this facility is managed full-time by Houston toad specialists who care for the toads and work closely. I never thought of how great this is wow! Credit to toad keepers.
The best part is that we would all love to think that wild animals in reality are at least a little bit like they are in National Geographic movies – cute, cuddly and happy to be in human company. Certainly toads can get used to human caretakers. Dr. Lauren Howard held one told and I was surprised that the toad did not struggle and even closed its eyes! I was wondering is it love? Or, the warmth of Lauren’s hand, or cues from the toad that it enjoys the care. We all need to care for these magnificent local Texas creatures.
Amphibian species are now on the verge of extinction. How do we save them?
– Toads like to take their time crossing the road…give them a brake! Roadkill is a significant cause of toad and frog mortality in many parts of the world. So drive slower on wet nights. Help a frog or toad cross the road (careful: don’t cause an accident or get squashed yourself).
– If you are building a pond, and want to support a healthy toad community, do not stock fish in it–even native species. Fishless ponds always tend to have a higher amphibian biodiversity than do ponds with fish.
– Most of the products we use in our daily life, and even the things we take for granted (food, water, electricity) have been removed from their natural place in the environment. We therefore offer the following suggestions on how you can reduce your ecological footprint: Turn off your air conditioning when it’s not in use. Take a shorter shower. Put a lid on that pot of boiling water. Turn off your lights. Print on both sides of the sheet of paper. Turn your jacuzzi off when it’s not in use. Going for a picnic? Don’t use styrofoam plates; most supermarkets sell biodegradable corn plates.
For more information visit; firstname.lastname@example.org
Point to remember; Toads may be begging for their environmental freedom!!!
Our annual Zoo Boo event is a Houston favorite…costumes, candy, zoo animals, tatzoos, you name it-we have it! But did you know that this event includes incredibly fun activities for kids and families to help save animals in the wild?!
Zoe the Zookeeper’s Howlerween Adventure has been part of Zoo Boo for many years now, calling attention to how howler monkeys are doing in the wild and highlighting how our Primate Staff have helped secure a future for these primates in their natural habitat. This year, this interactive section of Zoo Boo has been expanded to include activities, games and information about all of the rehabilitation and release programs the Houston Zoo is involved in. This means you can learn about how we rehabilitate and release sea turtles and howler monkeys, as well as breed and release Attwater’s prairie chickens and Houston toads!
On this fun adventure (located next to Duck Lake) you’ll learn how to keep a sea turtle’s home clean, what food a howler monkey should eat, where the Attwater’s prairie chicken lives in the wild, and how Houston toads communicate! You may even be lucky enough to get a special surprise if you complete all 4 activities! Not only is this fun, it is another way for you, our guests and members, to learn how you are helping us to make a difference for animals in the wild. Without your continued support we would not be able to do what we do for howler monkeys, sea turtles, Houston toads, Attwater’s prairie chickens and many other species. So, thank you! We hope to see you at the last weekend of Zoo Boo!
Zoo Boo will be open October 25 & 26 from 9:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
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