First endangered turtles nests on upper Texas coast this season found in Galveston

First endangered turtles nests on upper Texas coast this season found in Galveston

GALVESTON – Workers emptying beach garbage cans discovered the first nest to be laid this year on the upper Texas Gulf Coast by the official Texas sea turtle,  the endangered Kemp’s ridley, officials said Thursday.

The nest discovered after 6 a.m. Tuesday was followed by the discovery in the afternoon of a second nest in front of the Galveston seawall at 37th Street, said Joanie Steinhaus, who heads the Turtle Island Restoration Network’s Galveston office.

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The discoveries of nests in Galveston and the rest of the Texas coast have rekindled hope that the Kemp’s ridley may be making a comeback after a seven-year downward trend.

The first nests on the upper coast were discovered a few days earlier this year than in the last few years. « We’ve had a really warm winter and so we’ve anticipated an early season, » said Christopher Marshall, lead Kemp’s ridley researcher at Texas A&M University Galveston.

The first turtle was discovered in Beach Pocket Park No. 2 on the west end of the Island. Members of the turtle patrol, funded by Texas A&M and Turtle Island, were able to briefly detain the turtle after she laid her eggs, Marshal said. An examination discovered a tag showing she been caught and tagged in 2006.

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he tag offered a clue to a question scientists have been laboring to answer: are the turtles making nests on the upper coast one-time visitors or are they returning repeatedly to lay eggs?

« This is the one piece of evidence that suggests a group might be returning on a regular basis, » Marshall said. « But we need more data than one animal.

The second turtle was spotted by someone driving along the seawall, Steinhaus said.

The earliest nest ever discovered in Texas was on April 5, 2004, in front of the Galveston seawall, a time when the Kemp’s ridley, once on the verge of extinction, was making a rapid comeback, Steinhouse said.

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The number of nests  has been on a downward trend since the 2010 BP oilspill polluted Kemp’s ridley feeding grounds and killed untold numbers of juvenile turtles at sea.

Scientists and environmentalists have been concerned about the setback, but the early numbers this year are encouraging. As of Wednesday, 95 nests had been discovered along the entire Texas Coast, far more than have been found  this early in the season in recent years.

« This year should be a big year and we are starting to see that, » Steinhous said.

Donna Shaver, National Parks Service’s sea turtle science and recovery division chief at Padre Island National Seashore, said more turtle nests were counted in April this year than in any previous April on record.

The numbers are heartening, but Shaver cautioned that the early numbers could taper off at the end of the nesting season, which usually lasts until about mid-July. « Once we get past May we will have a good idea, » she said.