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Summers in Texas are best spent at the beach, which is even true for sea turtles. Each year, female turtles lay thousands of eggs on our beaches, and what happens next is simply incredible. An amazing network of wildlife organizations protects our sea turtles, with a special focus on the Kemp’s ridley, the most endangered sea turtle in the world.

Ridley Rendezvous – Celebrating 40 Years of Conservation

We were fortunate to spend several days shooting with the dedicated staff and volunteers at Padre Island National Seashore this summer, including during their amazing Ridley Rendezvous. On July 14th, conservation partners come together to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the program that made Texas a secondary nesting site. Their success is bringing generations of Kemp’s ridley mothers to our shores, protecting thousands of eggs annually, and helping to save these most endangered sea turtles is inspirational.

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Thousands of visitors joined in to celebrate the turtles starting with a record crowd at the morning’s hatchling release. Visitors then went on to enjoy family-friendly educational and entertainment sessions throughout the morning, with many even earning special Junior Ranger Badges made just for this day. The afternoon was highlighted by the release of over a dozen rehabilitated adult turtles from several area rescues. It was an amazing day recognizing a remarkable endeavor.

Sea Turtle Science and Recovery

Dr. Donna Shaver and the collection of staff and volunteers working with the Padre Island National Seashore Division of Sea Turtle Science & Recovery are doing incredible work. Each spring, turtle patrols, rangers, and even a sea turtle sniffing dog, Kayleigh, work tirelessly to identify nests and recover thousands of eggs from hundreds of turtles as they come ashore to nest.

The eggs are carefully transported in sand-filled, monitored coolers to the indoor incubation facility. There, great lengths are taken to protect the eggs from any predators, even going so far as to use petroleum jelly on any wires or structural elements of the racks to ensure that ants can’t climb from the floors or ceilings to the coolers housing their precious contents. The eggs are monitored diligently through to hatching using temperature probes in each box that collect and compile data 24x7 in their digital data acquisition system. The temperature is kept steady to target a 70% rate of female hatchlings, eventually increasing the number of nesting females in the larger population.

Once ready, the hatchlings are taken to the beach for their last trek along the sand before beginning a lifetime in the ocean. Males will never again return to land. Females will return to lay their eggs on the same beaches where they were born. Long-term data showed a historical timeframe of 3.5 years between major nesting seasons, with current data indicating that is now likely closer to every two years. Dr. Shaver explained that If this trend continues, we should see a very strong nesting year soon. So, if you are lucky enough to see a hatchling release, you can count on some of those babies making their way back to these same beaches when they reach adulthood.

Once ready, the hatchlings are taken to the beach for their last trek along the sand before beginning a lifetime in the ocean. Males will never again return to land. Females will return to lay their eggs on the same beaches where they were born. Long-term data showed a historical timeframe of 3.5 years between major nesting seasons, with current data indicating that is now likely closer to every two years. Dr. Shaver explained that If this trend continues, we should see a very strong nesting year soon. So, if you are lucky enough to see a hatchling release, you can count on some of those babies making their way back to these same beaches when they reach adulthood.

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From egg through adulthood, Texas’ sea turtles must be some of the luckiest in the world.

The dedicated conservation organizations working year-round to protect these amazing animals are an inspiration. Rescue groups across Texas are constantly ready to help stranded, injured, or cold-stunned green, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles found along the coast. This included over 3,000 turtles last winter alone during Texas’ worst cold-stunning event in recorded history. Most of these organizations are non-profits, and many have education centers you can visit to learn more about our beloved sea turtles while supporting the groups that help ensure their survival. We’ll introduce you to one of our favorites in our next blog.

Padre (Madre) Island

We don’t know about you, but we’re unofficially re-naming Padre Island to Madre Island in honor of the hundreds of Kemp’s ridley and other sea turtle mothers laying thousands of eggs of our Texas beaches each year. Human activity put these turtles at risk, and with some luck and dedication, human intervention may just bring them back from the brink of extinction.

Until Next Year…

The last public release of hatchlings for this year just took place at the National Seashore, and we’re already making plans to return next year. You should too. These turtle adventures are among the best summer experiences you can have in Texas. Your attendance at the releases even helps scare off some of the birds and crabs that would love to grab a few hatchlings as snacks, so just watching this amazing experience is a great act of conservation for you and our family.

Until then, you can visit the sea turtle rescue groups along the Texas coast to see Texas sea turtles in rehab and recovery. Watch for our next blog post to learn more about this opportunity.


What to Do If You Find a Sea Turtle

Report sea turtle sightings (nesting sea turtles, tracks, or hatchlings) to 1-866-TURTLE5 or to your nearest park ranger.


Blog Author: Katheryn Jager - Mc Alea

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