Reasons Unclear For Stark Drop In Number Of Endangered Sea Turtle Nests

Last year, the number of the nests of the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle along the Texas Gulf Coast was the highest on record when 209 nests were discovered.

During this year’s nesting season, so-called turtle patrols found only 152, according to the National Park Service. Nesting season runs from May to July.

Carole Allen is with the Sea Turtle Restoration Project’s Gulf of Mexico Office. She says she’s monitored the numbers all season.

“The nestings, for one thing, started late. But then they just weren’t adding up there were last year, so I knew when the end of the season came, which is now, that it was all over and we weren’t going to see the same number that we had last year or really anything very close to it.”

The decline ends a rapid upward trend since 2003. In a 2011 Kemp’s ridley recovery plan, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wrote the Kemp’s ridley nesting population was “exponentially increasing.”

Except for a drop in 2010, the number of nests grew by 12 to 18 percent for 10 years, says Donna Shaver with the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at Padre Island National Seashore.

“What we need to do is keep monitoring and see what the trends continue to do in the future, and continue to investigate and look at what possible causes may be.”

Why the number dropped so unexpectedly this year is not known. Allen says it’s probably a combination of things, including the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

“It could be just a regular cycle, although that’s a big drop to be part of a regular cycle. We’re concerned about what the oil spill did to the Kemp’s ridleys. We lost hundreds of them over in the oil spill area.”

She also says Kemp’s ridleys are known to migrate along the Gulf Coast to look for food and are more likely to get caught in nets in Louisiana. That’s because Louisiana doesn’t enforce a federal law that requires shrimpers to use so-called turtle excluder devices, or TEDs, in their nets.

Shaver wouldn’t speculate on the possible reasons for the drop because she’s the principal investigator of a study into the possible impacts on turtle nests by the 2010 oil spill, which could result in litigation.

The only good news: The number of Kemp’s ridley nests in the upper Texas Gulf Coast, including Galveston, remained stable.

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