DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (AP) — Staff members at Volusia County's Marine Science Center have treated almost as many sick sea turtles this year as they did all of last year.

Wildlife officials said an extended period of cold weather is one possible theory. In fact, they say higher numbers of stranded sea turtles have been found on beaches from central Florida to southern Georgia. Many are chronically ill and suffer from a variety of infections.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal ( ) reported the strandings could be caused by an unusually long period of cold weather that stretched into the spring.

"That's the working hypothesis," said Allen Foley, a sea turtle biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. "It wasn't an exceptionally cold winter, it just started early and it extended, even to this week. This winter just kept going and going. It's nice for us, but not good for the turtles."

Officials say turtles in the reason can typically tolerate cooler water temperatures. But the length of low water temperatures may have be "pushing the envelope of what their bodies can take," Foley said.

So far this year, the Marine Science Center has received 69 live sea turtles — with 39 being brought in during the past month. Last year, the center treated 40 sea turtles.

Wildlife officials said the stranding numbers were lower than usual in 2012. They recorded 1,481, which is the lowest number since 2008.

The newspaper reported endangered green turtles, Kemp's ridley turtles and loggerheads have washed up on beaches. That's another reason wildlife officials are pointing to an environmental issue.

"All the turtles are chronically ill, with all sorts of different infections," Foley said. "It just seems we have a bunch of turtles that haven't been doing well for a while and have just succumbed to their problems."

Foley said officials believe the strandings will stop as the weather warms up.

"I was hoping it would be before now," he said.


Information from: Daytona Beach (Fla.) News-Journal,