The miraculous recovery of the Kemp's ridley sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico.began 30 years ago with cooperative effort between the United States and Mexico. In 1978, a bi-national program between the two countries was developed to save the Kemp's ridley from extinction. Only a few hundred nesting females had survived from a population of some 40,000 in 1947. Eggs were being taken from the nesting beach near Rancho Nuevo, Mexico, and in U.S. waters, adult ridleys were drowning in shrimp trawls.
From 1978 to 1988, over 22,000 eggs were collected at Rancho Nuevo and placed in boxes containing sand from the Padre Island National Seashore. The eggs were then transported to the National Seashore and incubated. After hatching, the hatchlings were released on the beach and allowed to crawl to the surf, hopefully leaving them with a lasting impression of the beach. The baby turtles were recaptured and taken to the National Marine Fisheries Service Laboratory in Galveston, Texas. After ten to twelve months, turtles were released permanently into the Gulf of Mexico. (Many of them have matured and nested on the Texas coast.)
Meanwhile, HEART (Help Endangered Animals-Ridley Turtles) was formed under the direction of Carole Allen of Houston to educate the public about the desperate plight of the Kemp's ridleys and all sea turtles being drowned in U.S. waters by the shrimp industry. HEART organized thousands of students across the entire country to buy the special food needed by hatchlings at Galveston. Nicknamed 'the heartbreak turtle', this small marine animal became the subject of letters to Congress in classrooms from coast to coast asking for their protection.
Meanwhile, a battle raged between U.S. conservationists and the shrimp industry, which denied drowning sea turtles in its trawls. After research established that the shrimp industry was indeed the major enemy of sea turtles, the usage of Turtle Excluder Devices allowing sea turtles to escape from shrimp trawls was made mandatory by federal statute and required on all shrimp boats in U.S. waters.
Since 1978, there have been over 70,000 nests on Mexican beaches and over 4.5 million hatchlings have been released into the Gulf of Mexico. Last year 128 Kemp's ridley nests were found on the Texas coast, breaking all previous records. There's no doubt that this marvelous program of cooperation between Mexico and the United States is leading to a remarkable success story which will take its place in history books. We are hoping to join with public officials, sea turtle lovers and the public to celebrate this important milestone.