Record Number of Sea Turtles Counted in Texas

Published August 29, 2011

A record number of nests of endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles have been counted along the Texas Gulf Coast this year, putting to rest fears that last year’s BP Gulf oil spill would further jeopardize the endangered turtles. 

2009 Record Broken

Through June 30, researchers counted 199 sea turtle nests in Texas, beating the prior record of 197 nests counted in 2009. The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle is the world’s most endangered sea turtle, and researchers have been counting nests along the Texas coast since the early 1980s.

Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles also nest along the Mexican Gulf Coast, with a smaller number of turtles occasionally nesting in other portions of the United States. The United States and Mexico work cooperatively under a bi-national agreement to monitor, protect, and facilitate the recovery of the sea turtles.

A record-low 702 nests were counted in the two nations in 1985. This year researchers report approximately 20,600 nests in the two nations, just short of the record 22,000 nests reported in 2009.

Oil Effects Appear Temporary

According to Pat Burchfield, U.S. field group coordinator with the bi-national Kemp’s Ridley project, last year was a down year with only 13,000 nests. Some researchers speculated the massive BP oil spill was responsible for the decline, but this year’s nest count shows any oil spill impacts were temporary.  

“Each female nesting turtle nests approximately 2.5 times per year. Since 1992 we have seen a steady increase until last year. We don’t know what caused the numbers to taper off because we have no money to do applied research into the cause-and-effects of the BP oil spill. There is no one down there to take blood, check for deformities, etc. The good news is we seem to be back on track to getting to the trend numbers again this year,” Burchfield said.

Most of the worst predictions regarding the BP oil spill have not come true, but they are still being investigated, says Donna J. Shaver, a coordinator with the Padre Island National Seashore Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network.

“Efforts are still ongoing to determine impacts of the BP spill,” Shaver said. “Many entities and people are working to help protect and restore sea turtle species worldwide.” 

André Landry Jr., director of the Sea Turtle and Fisheries Ecology Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University at Galveston, explained the importance of Ridley sea turtles.

“Nesting in Texas occurs from the Rio Grande to Galveston,” Landry said. “The nesting in Texas has been a good recovery. We’ve been studying them since Hurricane Ike [in 2008]. Record nesting has occurred on the upper Texas coast for the last five years.… Data on nesting in Texas shows that over the last several years, the nests have been steadily increasing.” 

Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) writes from Texas.