Florida Freeze

Turtle at Marine Science Center, Ponce Inlet, Florida W.L. Doromal ©2010

January 10, 2010

For over a week now freezing Arctic air has kept temperatures near or below freezing in Central Florida, which is bad news for crops, tropical gardens, the homeless, and some of our tropical animal species. A few snow flurries, sleet and ice pellets fell in Orlando yesterday. Icicles at Disney, frozen bird baths and sheets and blankets covering plants in yards are not the usual sites for the Sunshine State, but have been the norm this week.

Iguanas are falling out of trees. Scientists say that when they get really cold they shut down and go into a frozen slumber. Lucky ones recover and wake up when it gets warm. Some Floridians have been rescuing the frozen iguanas and bringing them inside. Wildlife officials advise against unfreezing the iguanas since they are invasive species and are not welcome in Florida. (I like them, but maybe they do damage to native species. ) Here's what the AP reported:
When temperatures drop below about 60 F (15 C), they become less able to move around. Below about 40 F (5 C), they become completely immobile due to a lack of blood flow. Unable to hold on, the mohawked lizards, which shelter in tree branches and crevices, drop to the ground.

Iguanas and other tropical wildlife are bearing the brunt of the severe Arctic weather in Florida, where Miami's subtropical beaches have been left all but deserted this week with temperatures plummeting to around 32 F (zero degrees Celsius).
"Cold weather impacts iguanas severely and many are killed," said Gabriella Ferraro, spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
"That is not a bad thing. It's a good thing, because iguanas are an exotic animal, they don't belong to Florida. This seasonal kill helps us to manage the population."
One really unwelcome species, the Burmese python has caused a debate, not just in Florida but in the U.S. Congress where Florida Senator Bill Nelson wants legislation passed to ban the import of exotic species. The pythons are the result of pet owners releasing unwanted pets into the wild where they have thrived and produced offspring. Some of the snakes have been eating alligators and other wildlife in the Everglades.

From the Christian Science Monitor:
After Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D) brought a massive python hide to Congress to highlight the up to 150,000 large non-native snakes plying the swamps and threatening the ecosystem and even humans, the state last summer introduced its first-ever python bounty hunt, which has had limited success in pushing back the extremely reclusive and hard-to-find snakes.

But Friday the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission put out a press release urging hunters to use the cold to help them find the pythons. The animals are likely to be forced by the cold to come out of their hiding places and find sunny spots – along roads and levees – to bask.
Maybe people aren't so sad to see pythons and iguanas freeze, but they are showing concern for the manatees and sea turtles.

Manatees are the gentle, endangered aquatic species sometimes called sea cows. They are crowding by the hundreds into warmer canals and and springs. Hundreds are swimming in the waters near the power plants where water reaches spa-like temperatures.

Nani and I went to Blue Springs State Park in Deland today to see the manatees. We never saw so many in one place before! Here are some photos:

Over 700 rare sea turtles struck by hypothermia from the cold blast have been rescued from waterways along the Atlantic Coast and Gulf of Mexico. They are being brought to shelters, zoos and sanctuaries which are filling to capacity.

From the Nation:
Hundreds of loggerhead sea turtles in southern Florida have been brought ashore by the frigid temperatures dominating the usually warm waters off the Kennedy Space Center.

On Friday, NASA scientists teamed up with conservation agents to bring in as many sea turtles as possible from the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge located at the Kennedy Space Centre.

The turtles are cold-stunned -- a condition that occurs when water temperatures drop below 60 degrees. Much like humans, the turtles become very sluggish and lethargic as their body temperatures plunge in a cold environment.

It has been twenty years since the last round of "cold-stunning" in Florida.

The team removed nearly 300 endangered turtles from Kennedy's Mosquito Lagoon.

The animals were measured, weighed and treated for any obvious medical problems, and then shipped off to warmer inland facilities where they can wait out the cold temperatures.
Nani and I also went to visit the turtles at the Marine Science Center at Ponce Inlet today. They had turtles recovering in their Turtle ICU Ward, and then in the main museum about 30 turtles were in kiddie pools and bins covered with blankets to recover from hypothermia. A museum staff member told us that community members donated the blankets and towels. Tomorrow boats will be out again to find the turtles and bring them to shelters.

Here are some photos of the turtles at the Marine Science Center:

Photos by W. L. Doromal ©2010


Anonymous said...

stay warm! nice photos.

The Saipan Blogger said...

Those look like Green Sea Turtles. Have you seen any iguanas?

Wendy said...

They also had some big loggerheads there. I didn't see any iguanas, but there is a video about the lizard girl who rescues the iguanas down by Miami. She is about 4 years old.