Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, facing threats including entrapment in fishing gear, degradation and loss of nesting habitat, and ocean pollution. However, the species has made strides since its population fell to fewer than 250 nesting females in the 1980s. Now, hatchlings have been spotted on a set of islands for the first time in at least 75 years.
Louisiana state officials recently announced that Kemp’s ridley hatchlings have been discovered in the state’s Chandeleur Islands. They were observed in the Breton National Wildlife Refuge by Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The state has been monitoring this area due to impacts from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill and several recent tropical storms. The goal is to develop a restoration plan for the islands, and this discovery will help form these plans.
Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, regional director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says, “We were very excited to learn that sea turtles are once again using the Chandeleur Islands for nesting. We’ve worked hard with our partners to restore wildlife and habitat in the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill through planning and implementing numerous projects, including on the Chandeleur Islands. The discovery of sea turtles nesting and successfully hatching is a huge step forward demonstrating the amazing resilience of fish and wildlife resources, including threatened and endangered species, and the importance of restoring these barrier islands to protect humans and nature.”
State officials say the Chandeleur Islands are an important habitat for many species, but the state had been largely written off as a nesting site for sea turtles some time ago. Discovering these hatchlings provides more of the restoration knowledge needed to ensure these turtles will keep coming back.
So far, more than 50 sea turtle crawls have been documented, and two live hatchlings have been observed heading out to open water. It isn’t just Kemp’s ridleys that have been nesting there, either. The USFWS says crawl survey data shows loggerhead sea turtles, which are listed as threatened, are also nesting on these islands. The hope is that this will continue.
CPRA Executive Director Bren Haase says, “We have a responsibility to protect the wildlife here, and that means creating safe and nourishing environments for these turtles and other animals that call Louisiana home. It’s an exciting discovery, and we hope to see additional hatchlings emerging in the weeks and years to come.”
According to NOAA Fisheries, while the majority of nesting sites for Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are in Mexico, there are also established sites in Texas, as well as occasional nesting in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama.
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