About one hundred Kemp's ridley turtle hatchlings are expected to be released tomorrow along the Padre Island National Seashore to help the world's most critically endangered sea turtle species recover. The release is scheduled for 7:00 am on the beach just inside the entrance of the National Seashore. For a more immediate update, please call the Turtle Hotline at 361-949-7163.
The one-inch hatchlings, carefully protected by US Geological Survey biologists and volunteers during their 50-day incubation, will crawl to the sea where they will spend most of their lives, returning to the shore only to mate and nest.
But the fate of these turtles is far from secure. Just 50 years ago, 40,000 Kemp's ridleys laid eggs in a single day at nearby Tamaulipas, Mexico. By 1985, egg poaching and accidental capture by fishermen took a toll-only 700 nests were found. Now, Kemp's ridleys are making a comeback, thanks to protection of nesting beaches and shrimpers' use of turtle excluder devices.
"Unfortunately, turtle deaths are still high," said Environmental Defense fisheries biologist Pamela Baker. Last year, 95 Kemp's ridleys were stranded on Texas' shores, and so far this year, 42 have been found. Most turtles wash ashore during the shrimping season, and scientists believe the shrimp industry is the leading cause of human-related turtle deaths.
Environmental Defense hopes to convince Texas Parks and Wildlife officials, in their current "shrimp regulation review initiative," to protect sea turtles while benefiting shrimp. "By moving shrimp boats to deep water, away from the turtles' shallow mating and nesting grounds, we can protect sea turtles and spawning white shrimp that share the turtle's mating areas. The protection zone should extend from island beaches to five miles out to sea along the entire Texas coast," said Baker.
Tomorrow, the season's first group of young turtles are expected to be released by biologist on the National Seashore south of Corpus Christi. Environmental Defense will be on hand to help monitor the process and answer questions.