Upper Texas Coast Has the Space!

The Upper Texas Coast could have its own incubation site for Kemp’s ridley sea turtles in the future. The possibility was announced at Sea Turtle Saturday at Galveston on February 19 when Don Ware of the Friends of the Galveston Island State Park (FoGISP) spoke to over 100 people gathered at the event sponsored by the Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council (GINTC), Sea Turtle Restoration Project and National Marine Fisheries Service.

With the rebuilding of the State Park which was badly damaged by Hurricane Ike in 2008, an area has been set aside which could serve as an incubation site or “corral” for eggs of the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Nesting has increased on the Upper Texas Coast for several years with eggs being transferred to the Padre Island National Seashore (PINS) near Corpus Christi.

Dr. Andre Landry, Jr., Director of Sea Turtle And Fisheries Ecology Research Lab of Texas A&M University at Galveston and long time Kemp’s ridley researcher believes that having a corral on the upper Texas Coast and not transferring the eggs is important for several reasons.

“I see the corral initiative being a proactive step in safe guarding nests laid on the upper Texas coast, imprinting future nesters to constituent beaches, and drawing attention to additional protection that is needed to protect nesting activity on the upper Texas coast,” Landry said, “In addition, the corral and hatchling releases it will afford will be a center piece of public education efforts focusing on sea turtles and the role the upper Texas coast can play in population recovery.”

Many residents of Galveston Island including GINTC and FoGISP members support the corral affording local students and tourists the opportunity to see a release of Kemp’s ridley hatchlings. Science teachers attending the November 2010 Conference for the Advancement of Science Teaching in Houston signed petitions supporting a corral or hatching site on the Upper Texas Coast which would be closer to southeast Texas schools. At present, all hatchlings are released from PINS although the eggs were found on the Upper Texas Coast and incubated in sand from the Galveston area.

“We need to remember that the Kemp’s ridleys choose the Upper Texas Coast to lay their eggs,” said Carole Allen of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. “Even if the sand isn’t as white as on beaches further south, we need to keep in mind that mother turtles know best.”

Before the corral can be constructed, permits must be obtained from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Don Ware of FoGISP suggested that the turtle eggs be shared with the Padre Island National Seashore in the beginning of the program. A corral is currently used successfully in South Texas by Sea Turtle, Inc. and a limited number of nests are allowed to remain in place to hatch out at the National Seashore. In the past, hatchlings have emerged from several undetected nests in the Galveston and Bolivar Peninsula areas. Sea turtle patrols watching for nesting Kemp’s ridleys will begin on the Upper Texas Coast on April 1.