GALVESTON — Humans won’t be the only ones heading for Texas beaches as summer approaches.
Nesting season for the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle has begun and local researchers, volunteers and advocates are keeping their eyes peeled for female turtles making their way up the beach to lay their eggs. They hope others will keep an eye out, too.
Kemp’s ridley sea turtles were named the state sea turtle a year ago, and locals will be celebrating that accomplishment Saturday.
The nesting season began April 1 and runs into July, but so far none have been seen on Galveston beaches, said Kim Reich, director of the Texas A&M University at Galveston Sea Life Facility.
The Galveston area is on the northern edge of the Kemp’s ridley’s range. The majority of the nesting happens in Mexico, while South Texas is being established as a secondary nesting area.
“This year things are off to a very, very slow start,” Reich said.
Reich said she hoped the lack of turtles on the beach is related to the recent colder weather and not because of a decline in turtles making nests.
Last year’s nesting numbers were down 30 percent from the year before, she said.
“We are very hopefuy that that was an anomaly year,” Reich said.
Only 153 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles were spotted on Texas beaches in 2013, said Donna Shaver, chief of the division of sea turtle science and recovery with the Padre Island National Seashore in South Texas.
That’s down from the 209 turtles in 2012, she said.
So far only three turtles have been spotted making landfall in all of Texas. They were all in the Padre Island National Seashore, Shaver said.
It’s too early to tell whether the longer, colder winter, or something else, is behind the slow start, Reich said.
Reich has studied l the effects the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill may have had on sea turtles. Funding for the study has just run out, and she can’t say with certainty whether the BP spill had any effect on the turtles, she said.
“We can say because of the BP oil spill we need to be especially vigilante,” Reich said.
The recent spill in Galveston Bay could also have an effect on the turtles if any oil or tar balls are still present on the beaches, she said.
But Reich says she hopes that as the weather grows warmer, turtles will start making their way onto the beach.
When they do, volunteers with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, part of the national Turtle Island Restoration Network, will be out looking for them.
The group has more than 80 volunteers who will comb beaches from East Beach to Surfside, said Joanie Steinhaus, associate campaign director with the project.
Steinhaus and the restoration project are also organizing a celebration for the naming of the Kemp’s Ridley as the official sea turtle of the state on Saturday.
Gov. Rick Perry signed a bill making the Kemp’s Ridley the state sea turtle in May of last year following work of local school children. The one-year anniversary party begins Saturday at 11 a.m. at Stewart Beach, 201 Seawall Boulevard.
Educating the public and raising awareness because for all the good work volunteers do spotting turtles more than 40 percent of turtles found in the last six years are by the beach going public, she said.
“That’s why we are really trying to push the education with public,” Steinhaus said.
She reaches out to students, adults, anglers and is even working with local Realtors to spread information on how to spot turtles and what to do if one is spotted on the beach.
Steinhaus said if someone sees a turtle they should keep about 20 feet away and let others in the area know to keep an open path for the turtle. Anyone who spots a turtle or anglers who catch a turtle should call 866-887-8535 to report the sighting, she said.
The Kemp’s Ridley turtle’s fight back to larger, healthier numbers has been hailed as a great success. But Steinhaus said there concern that nesting numbers are going down. More work and collaboration between groups is possible to keep the turtle population healthy, she said.
“This is a species that was on the brink of extinction, and if we don’t do something now, then the possibility for them to continue to go down (exists),” Steinhaus said.
Contact reporter Christopher Smith Gonzalez at 409-683-5314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
At a Glance
WHAT: Shell — E — Bration anniversary party of the Kemp’s Ridely being named the Texas state turtle
WHEN: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Stewart Beach, 201 Seawall Blvd. Galveston
SCHEDULE: 11 a.m. costume contest registration
noon turtle costume contest
1 p.m. turtle sand sculpture contest
If you find a turtle ...
Call the Turtle Patrol at 866-887-8535.
Provide an accurate description of the turtle’s location.
Follow the directions of the person answering the phone.
You may be asked to stay with the turtle and to help by keeping other beach visitors from approaching the turtle.
If you have a camera, take pictures and send them to email@example.com.
Remember this is an endangered species, thus it is illegal to harass the turtles in any way. That includes touching the turtle, standing in front of the turtle as she returns to the water or disturbing a nest.
SOURCE: Kim Reich, director of the Texas A&M University at Galveston Sea Life Facility