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July 19, 2004
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles Set Texas Nesting Record
AUSTIN, Texas-The world’s most endangered sea turtle has returned to nest on Texas beaches in record numbers this year, a hopeful sign for biologists watching the species come back from the brink of extinction.
A total of 41 Kemp’s ridley nests have been reported in Texas this year, breaking past the previous Texas record of 38 nests in 2002.
For the past several years TPWD has worked with a host of other agencies including the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, Gladys Porter Zoo, University of Texas and officials in Mexico to restore the Kemp’s ridley turtles.
"One tactic was to bring some of the eggs from Mexico, hatch the turtles here in Texas, and imprint them on our beaches," said Mike Ray, of the Coastal Fisheries Division at TPWD. "The hope was that some would return to the Padre Island area and the good news is they are doing that."
In 1985, there were fewer than 350 nesting females reported, and this year that number is approaching 3,000. Hitting the 10,000 mark could down-list the turtles from endangered to threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act.
"We’re getting there," Ray said. "Hopefully within 10 years we could achieve that level. The Kemp’s population is expanding by about 14 percent a year."
There are several likely reasons for the increased number of turtle nestings on Texas beaches. The rapid increase in the nesting population in Mexico probably caused the Kemp’s ridley to expand their nesting range. In 2001, TPWD put into action new commercial shrimping regulations that restricted the size and number of shrimping trawls per vessel in near-shore waters from the beach to nine nautical miles out into the Gulf of Mexico, an area where sea turtles feed, mate and come to the beach to nest. Another shrimping regulation includes a seven-month seasonal ban on shrimp trawling from lower coast Gulf beaches to five miles offshore. Both regulations were designed to reduce fishing pressure on shrimp near the beach; however, sea turtles were afforded more protection from the regulations as well. Importantly, the use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) by the commercial fleet is a major reason the Kemp’s ridley and other sea turtle populations are rebounding since the device allows turtles to escape shrimp trawls.
In an effort to protect as many sea turtles as possible, the Padre Island National Seashore incubates most of the sea turtle eggs found along the Texas coast and releases the hatchlings into the Gulf of Mexico.
Donna Shaver, Ph.D. and Chief of the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at Padre Island National Seashore has been working with sea turtle conservation efforts for more than 20 years. She is also excited about the record number of nesting sightings this year.
"We’ve had more nests than ever this year," Shaver said. "We are very hopeful to set another record in 2006."
Shaver said that all of the work for sea turtle conservation is truly a cooperative effort by all of the participating partners and also the public.
"About half of the nests that we record are due to public sightings," Shaver said. "We always encourage the public to keep their eyes peeled for sea turtle nests."
The public can view sea turtle hatchling releases this summer on North Beach of the National Seashore. The releases usually take place around 6:45 a.m. and are free to attend.
For more information about the hatchling releases including specific release dates, check online at (http://www.nps.gov/pais/pphtml/events.html) or phone the national seashore Hatchling Hotline at (361) 949-7163.
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