Kemp’s ridley turtle (Photo provided by NOAA)
The Kemp’s ridley turtle, primarily found in the Gulf of Mexico, is the world’s most endangered sea turtle. As its survival hangs in the balance, marine biologists are saying that its recovery has now flatlined — due in large part to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster four years ago.
Recent reports from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and other preservation groups show that nesting grounds of the Kemp’s ridley, dropped by 30 percent in 2010 and continues its decline.
Last week, sea turtle advocates and other community groups throughout the region attended the 34th Annual Symposium in New Orleans.
Teri Shore, of the Turtle Island Restoration Network in San Francisco, says the Kemp’s ridley species was the hardest hit by the oil spill.
“We’re hearing this from the scientists who are at the Sea Turtle Symposium. For the first time, we’re hearing the scientists themselves saying that the Kemp’s ridley recovery has flatlined after two decades and it all started in 2010.”
According to Shore, federal funding was recently cut by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a successful bi-national program that supported monitoring of sea turtle beaches and nesting grounds in Mexico and Texas.
Pamela Plotkin is the director of Texas Sea Grant at Texas A&M University. She says without this money, researchers would not have the resources available to count the number of impacted turtles at their nesting beaches.
“It’s really of great concern to many folks in the Gulf of Mexico as well as folks around the world who study sea turtles to see such an incredible conservation success for it to hit a brick wall.”
Meanwhile, the recent Texas oil spill into Galveston Bay that released an estimated 170,000 gallons of bunker fuel oil into Gulf waters, didn’t help matters either.
Todd Steiner, biologist and Executive Director of SeaTurtles.org, says the Galveston Bay spill may have polluted the Kemp’s ridley nesting grounds, but due to the recent cold temperatures, the turtles had delayed its nesting this year.
“So that’s probably a good thing just because of the timing, for the moment. But we are very concerned about the Galveston Oil Spill impact on the Kemp’s ridley which would and will start nesting very soon in that region.”
All five sea turtle species in the Gulf of Mexico, including the Kemp’s ridley, are considered endangered or threatened, making it illegal to sell their meat, eggs or shells. The Gulf oil spill launched thousands of lawsuits, as well as a federal trial that’s still ongoing.