U. S. Government releases long-overdue roadmap for turtles that nest only in Texas and Mexico

NOAA Fisheries and the US Fish and Wildlife Service in cooperation with the Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources of Mexico have released a long overdue bi-national Recovery Plan for the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle that nests only in Texas and Mexico.

After years on the brink of extinction, “the Kemp‘s ridley nesting population is exponentially increasing…” and the Kemp’s Ridley Recovery Team “is cautiously optimistic that the population is on its way to recovery,” according to the Executive Summary. Under the Endangered Species Act which protects sea turtles, a total of 10,000 nesting females must be recorded by 2014 before consideration is given to listing the species as “threatened” instead of endangered. To be removed from the Endangered Species List by 2038, 40,000 nesting females per season would be required over a 6-year period.

“On Texas beaches, we have seen a slow return of the Kemp’s ridley,” said Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director for Sea Turtle Restoration Project. “The public has helped by calling our public information number 866-TURTLE-5 to report sea turtle sightings.”

“The Kemp’s ridleys look like they have a bright future as long as harm from human activities are kept in check,” said Teri Shore, Program Director for Sea Turtle Restoration Project.

In 2009, the sea turtle nesting season broke all records on the Texas coast with 197 documented nests. This was the sixth consecutive year for nesting increases. It set a new record for the number of Kemp’s ridley nests found since record keeping efforts began on the Texas coast in the early 1980s. The previous record was 195, set in 2008.

In 2009, the total number of nests recorded at Rancho Nuevo and adjacent
beaches exceeded 20,000, which represents about 8,000 females nesting during the 2009 nesting season.

The Plan recommends that current conservation efforts including the use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TED) on shrimp trawls and protection of nesting beaches be continued. TED-use should be expanded to all trawl fisheries. The Plan calls for reduction of mortality in hook and line fisheries, trap/pot fisheries, long line and gillnet fisheries. Impacts of marine pollution, oil and gas operations, drift fences designed to prevent coastal sand build-up and hopper dredging activities should be monitored and reduced to protect Kemp’s ridleys. Motor vehicles on nesting beaches are also noted as a growing problem.

The Mexican government is to expand boundaries of the Rancho Nuevo nesting beach sanctuary north to Laguna Madre-Rio Bravo Protected Area, develop coastal zone management plans throughout the Kemp’s ridley distribution area and increase educational efforts.

Recognizing the increasing number of nestings on Texas beaches, the Plan calls for the public to be informed about what they should do if they see a nesting turtle. Beach signs such as the ones developed and installed by the Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP), Texas A&M University at Galveston, Moody Gardens and NOAA Fisheries are recommended to raise public awareness.

Public Comments on the Recovery Plan may be made through May 17. More information is available at http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/