U. S. Government Must Take Emergency Action to Protect Thousands of Endangered Kemp’s Ridleys Now Emerging at Padre Island National Seashore in Texas

Today Sea Turtle Restoration Project filed an emergency request to halt the release of hatchling sea turtles from Padre Island National Seashore in Texas into the Gulf of Mexico with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Instead, hatchlings should be moved to sea turtle research and rehabilitation facilities and raised until it is safe to let them go. If the hatchlings enter the oil slick, the tiny turtles are likely to perish as contact with oil will hinder their ability to swim, breathe and eat. See the letter faxed today. Read about how oil harms sea turtles.

Even with tar balls now washing up on Texas shores, three critically endangered Kemp’s ridley nests totaling about 300 hatchlings are due to be released this Friday, July 9, 2010, at Padre Island National Seashore. This is in spite of evidence that sea turtles in the western Gulf of Mexico move east in currents into the oil spill. Although numerous hatchlings have already been released, clutches (nests) numbering from 84 through 135 are still incubating. About 100 eggs are in each nest, so about 5,000 hatchlings are due to emerge in July and early August.

“These tiny members of the Kemp’s ridley population could be moved to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Galveston sea turtle facility and raised until it is safe to let them go,” said Carole Allen, Gulf Office Director of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project (STRP).  “The Galveston facility has the expertise to take good care of these turtles until the Gulf offers them a chance to live.”

“All the attention is focused on the eastern Gulf with seemingly little interest in the Kemp’s ridley hatchlings,” said Todd Steiner of STRP. “It seems such a simple thing to do to save hundreds of tiny turtles from death by oil.”

The mass relocation of sea turtle eggs recently implemented in Florida does not involve the endangered Kemp’s ridley, which nests in Texas and Mexico. Nor does the plan address the thousands of adult sea turtles that utilize Gulf waters now poisoned by oil slicks.

While the migratory paths of hatchling sea turtles are not precisely known, it is understood that the Kemp’s ridley hatchlings are drawn to areas where the oil pools. They swim out to sea and cluster around clumps of seaweed and flotsam, where they stay for what is known as the “lost years.”

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are beginning to recover after near-extinction in the 1980s due to capture in shrimp trawl nets and were also impacted by the 1979 Ixtol oil spill. A bi-national effort between the U. S. and Mexico over decades that cost millions of dollars has resulted in a slowly increasing population. The BP oil spill is certain to have both short-and-long term negative impacts on the survival and recovery of the Kemp’s ridley and calls for additional actions at this time.