Beachgoers advised to be on the lookout for cold-stunned sea turtles

Cold-stunned Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle found at Sandy Bay Sound Access on Jan. 12. [CHNS photo]

By Joy Crist, Island Free Press
As the temperatures on Hatteras and Ocracoke Islands drop in the winter months, cold-stunned sea turtles begin to make an appearance along the soundside beaches, and a number of turtles have been rescued in recent days after the Outer Banks’ cold start to the New Year.

“Please be on the lookout for turtles during these cold days,” stated the Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CHNS) in a recent social media update. “Since the beginning of the new year, about 25 live, cold-stunned sea turtles have been found along the seashore’s sound by NPS Staff and N.E.S.T. volunteers… If you find a sea turtle dead or alive, please call 252-216-6892. The turtles thank you!”

As cold-blooded reptiles, sea turtles derive heat from their surroundings, and when they become too cold, their metabolism slows, prohibiting them from moving and ultimately from migrating to warmer waters. This cold-stunned scenario can turn deadly, as once in an immobile and lethargic state, the sea turtles can have difficulty raising their heads above water to breathe, and can eventually drown.

Local volunteers regularly monitor the Hatteras Island shorelines after a cold spell, looking for cold-stunned sea turtles in need of assistance. The volunteers primarily search for stranded turtles along the soundside, covering private property in the villages and areas that are not routinely patrolled by the National Park Service.

The number of sea turtles that are rescued can vary greatly from year to year. The winter of 2019 / 2020 was a particularly busy season, with more than 100 sea turtles rescued after a single cold snap in January alone. However, last winter, which had predominantly warmer temperatures that were well above freezing, had fewer rescues, and was a less active year than its predecessors.

Although temperatures are expected to climb again to the 50s and 60s over the next several days, another bout of freezing temperatures is forecasted for this weekend, so beachgoers along the sound and oceanfront should keep a lookout as January comes to a close.

How You Can Help:

  • If you spot a cold-stunned sea turtle in or along the Pamlico Sound, contact the 24-hour NEST hotline at 252-441-8622. You can also call Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation at 252-475-4217, or the National Park Service at 252-216-6892.
  • For more information on NEST, and to make a donation or learn about volunteer opportunities, visit
  • For more information on Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation and/or to inquire about making a donation, visit their Facebook page at
  • To make a donation to Outer Banks Wild Care, which also provides rehabilitation services on Hatteras Island, mail checks to Outer Banks Wild Care, P.O. Box 324 Buxton, NC, or donate via their PayPal account at