The cold water can stun sea turtles, and if they don’t warm up, the critically endangered creatures can die.

Meghan Overdeep
January 23, 2019
Facebook/Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation

The frigid cold snap that swept the nation earlier this week is putting the lives of some of the Outer Banks’ most vulnerable residents at risk.

The cold water can stun sea turtles, and if they don’t warm up, the critically endangered creatures can die.

According to the Ocracoke Observer, when the water temperature off North Carolina’s Outer Banks sinks below 50 degrees—like it did on Monday—volunteers with the Network for Endangered Sea Turtles (NEST) go on alert. They patrol the beaches and sound as much as they can in the hopes of finding stunned sea turtles and getting them to a rescue facility to warm up before it’s too late.

“Cold stunning can be fatal as sea turtles become lethargic, experiencing decreased circulation and slowing of other body functions,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration explains on its website. “Cold-stunned sea turtles are more likely to be hit by boats, eaten by predators, become sick, or die as their bodies shut down.”

WATCH: Watch This Baby Sea Turtle Make Its Way To The Ocean

Volunteers have reportedly found a number of dead turtles recently, but there has been good news. Hatteras Island Wildlife Rehabilitation shared a video on Facebook of a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle clinging to life with a body temperature of 46 degrees. The poorly turtle was taken to the Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation Center (STAR) at the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island to warm up.

“There are no guarantees, but hopefully this one will pull through,” the caption reads. “Thanks to Elizabeth for finding this one, and to all the STAR staff and volunteers. Every time we call for a transport, some volunteer drives over 120 miles!”

Pat Garber, a former wildlife rehabilitator on Ocracoke and NEST volunteer, told the Observer that anyone finding a turtle should assume it’s alive; don’t try to warm the turtle, and to immediately contact NEST’s 24-hour hotline (252) 441-8622. Garber is also available at (252) 928-6765.