June 27, 2022

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World’s rarest sea turtle lays eggs on Texas beach

3 min read

For the first time ever, the world’s rarest species of sea turtle has laid eggs on a Texas beach. Experts recently discovered the “conservation success” on the shores of Magnolia Beach: a sea turtle nest containing approximately 45 hatching Kemp’s ridley eggs. The turtles successfully made it to the water from the nest, according to a news release. 

“This has never happened in modern times,” said Dr. Pamela Plotkin, director of Texas Sea Grant and sea turtle biologist, in the release. “Sea turtles typically nest on barrier island beaches in Texas and so seeing a turtle nest on a beach inside any bay is rare.”

Plotkin said there are many miles of unpopulated bay shoreline along Texas’ coast, “so it is possible that sea turtle nesting on these shores is more frequent and undetected.”

Kemp’s ridley turtles are the world’s smallest, most endangered sea turtle, according to the release. They also happen to be the official state turtle of Texas. Zach Padron and Jason Gonzales, maintenance workers with the Calhoun County Precinct 1 Commissioner’s Office, found approximately 25 of the hatching turtles while they were picking up trash on the beach.

They also noticed the turtles were heading the wrong way. “I thought, ‘We better help them because it’s a good ways to the water,'” Padron said in the release. He remembered learning from television shows that hatchling sea turtles are at risk from predators like seagulls. In fact, eggs left on the beach only have a 45 percent chance of hatching, which is why intervention from conservationists can be critical. 

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Padron and Gonzales notified Calhoun County Marine Extension Agent RJ Shelly, who began excavating the turtle nests upon arriving. He found more turtles that needed help emerging from the nest. “Sure enough, once we started excavating, we saw more and more dig their way out,” Shelly said in the release. 

The turtles were within 10 feet of a roadway, making monitoring necessary. Shelly and others supervised the hatching process, ensuring the turtles’ safe release into Matagorda Bay. “We let them imprint on the sand and then stood there while they made their run,” Shelly said in the release. 

Video of the rescue and the turtles’ incredible journey to the water was also shared on Facebook.

Conservation efforts have been ongoing in Matagorda Bay for the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley. Decades of efforts from scientists, resource managers, conservationists, and others have helped the species begin to recover, the release said.

Plotkin said in the late 1800s a commercial sea turtle fishery in Matagorda Bay decimated the bay’s sea turtle population by the early 1900s. “Matagorda Bay is currently a vibrant healthy ecosystem with an abundance of sea turtles that live and feed there,” Plotkin said in the release. “Signs of sea turtle recovery in Matagorda Bay are visible now and illustrate how reduced fishing pressure in concert with habitat restoration can save threatened and endangered species.” 



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