On Aug. 17, the Louisiana government announced that the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) have found evidence that the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley turtle is in the Breton National Wildlife Refuge hatched on the Chandeleur Islands.
“Louisiana was largely written off as a sea turtle nesting ground decades ago, but this decision shows why restoring the barrier island is so important. As we develop and implement projects statewide, we always keep in mind what it takes to preserve our communities and improve wildlife habitat. With this knowledge, we can now ensure that these turtles and other wildlife return to our shores year after year,” CRPA Chair Chip Kline said in the announcement.
This hatching is the first in at least 75 years. Two baby turtles were seen making their way towards the water, while more than 53 sea turtles were observed crawling.
According to The Guardian, the Kemp’s ridley is the smallest species of sea turtle and scientists are particularly fortunate to find hatchlings of this species. They are usually found in the Gulf of Mexico and during the days when they were plentiful in the area.
“An amateur video from 1947 documented tens of thousands of Kemps ridleys nesting near Rancho Nuevo, Mexico, in a single day,” wrote the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
By 1980 Kemp’s ridley turtle numbers had collapsed and in 1985 only 250 nesting females and 702 nests were found. Thanks to conservation efforts, the number of nests has increased by about 15% each year up until 2009. Until then, the increase stagnated. The species remained endangered. Their main threat is being accidentally caught by commercial and recreational fishermen.
That the broods occurred on the Chandeleur Islands is also very good news, as the island was exposed to both the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill and a series of tropical storms. The broods serve as an argument to further restore and protect the islands.
“The critically endangered Kemp’s ridley turtle has returned to nest on the Chandeleur Islands, underscoring the need to protect this sensitive habitat so that it can continue to be home to marine and coastal wildlife in the future,” said Beth Lowell , Vice President of Oceana US NPR reports.
“We have a responsibility to protect wildlife here, and that means providing safe and nurturing environments for these turtles and other animals that call Louisiana home. It’s an exciting discovery and we hope more hatchlings will emerge in the coming weeks and years,” CPRA Executive Director Bren Haase said in the government statement.
Sea turtle nesting season peaks in June and July, and the babies hatch 50 to 60 days later. This means even more nests could be found on the island and authorities will monitor the area throughout the summer.
Picture: Coastal Defense and Restoration Authority/AP via NPR