The Kemp’s ridley nesting season started officially on April 7 with the first nest found at the Padre Island National Seashore. The first ridley nest in Mexico was found on March 30 and nestings typically begin in Texas two to three weeks later. Patrol teams along the Upper Texas Coast have also started looking for sea turtle crawl tracks indicating a sea turtle has left the water looking for a suitable place to lay eggs. Elsewhere in the Gulf of Mexico, a wave of dead Kemp’s ridley sea turtles have stranded on Mississippi beaches.Click here for update.

“I am thrilled that nesting season has begun, but also worried about the unusual increase in sea turtle mortalities in the Gulf right now. We know if only takes one or two shrimp trawl boats who don’t respect endangered species to kill a lot of sea turtles,” said Carole Allen, Gulf Director of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project.

The US Fish and Wildlife Service has sent out details on what to do if a nesting or dead sea turtle is seen on the beach, and the public is encouraged to immediately call 1-866-TURTLE-5, a toll-free service sponsored by the non-profit Sea Turtle Restoration Project answered by federal and state agencies to provide information for their response.

“The effects of the BP oil spill on critically endangered Kemp’s ridleys nesting in Texas are likely to be seen this year and for years to come because oil toxicity has many chronic results that do not appear immediately,” added Chris Pincetich, Ph.D. a marine biologist with research experience in toxicology also with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project.

“The steady increase in the turtles’ nesting success is in large part due to the ongoing efforts by members of the public to protect them,” said Benjamin N. Tuggle, Ph.D., the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Regional Director. “This is the kind of cooperative effort that will eventually lead to success in saving these sea turtles as well as other imperiled species.”

The public is asked to drive slowly and look out for sea turtles as they sometimes blend with the sand. If a camera is handy, photos are always welcome should the turtle finish the nest and returns to the water before a federal or state official arrives. Because Kemp’s ridleys in Texas are a federally protected endangered species, disturbing their nesting can lead to penalties. Their populations have risen exponentially due to cooperative recovery efforts and changes to shrimp trawl gear that allow most sea turtles to swim free from nets, but the BP oil spill has cast doubt over their continued increases.

Kemp’s ridley nesting in 2010 decreased in both Mexico and Padre Island National Seashore in south Texas, but increased in the Upper Texas Coast. Biologists have begun to focus more attention on this area.