A routine survey at Galveston Island State Park has uncovered a nest with 107 critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle eggs. This is the first Kemp’s ridley nest found at the park since 2012 and only the third since the Sea Aggie Sea Turtle Patrol, an organization that conducts patrols and responds to strandings, started keeping records, per a statement from Texas Parks & Wildlife.
“The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is one of the most endangered sea turtle species in the world so every egg matters,” Christopher Marshall, a professor of marine biology at Texas A&M and director for the Gulf Center for Sea Turtle Research, said in the statement. "A lot of nesting habitat for the Kemp's ridley has been lost to storms, high tide and predation, which is why it is important to transport these nests to an environment where they have the best chance for survival into adulthood."
At two feet in length and a modest 70 to 100 pounds, the Kemp’s ridley is the world’s smallest sea turtle species. During nesting season, female turtles return to the same beach on which they hatched to lay their eggs. Kemp’s ridleys are one of two sea turtle species to lay eggs en masse during nesting events called arribadas, or “arrivals.” Almost 95 percent of their nesting occurs in an arribada in Rancho Nuevo, Mexico, per the National Wildlife Federation.
A video taken in 1947 showed around 40,000 Kemp’s ridleys nesting during the arribada in Rancho Nuevo. But, by the mid-1980s, the number of nests worldwide reached a low of 702, with less than 250 nesting females. Egg harvesting and accidental entanglement in fishing nets contributed to the decline.
“We almost lost the species to extinction,” Marshall told the Washington Post’s Marisa Iati last month.
With conservation efforts from both Mexico and the United States, including re-establishing a nesting colony at Padre Island National Seashore in Texas, the population bounced back to 20,000 nests worldwide in 2009. But the numbers decreased again in 2010 and have since been in flux. As of 2020, the population is estimated at 5,500 females nesting in Mexico annually and about 55 females nesting in Texas.
The eggs found in Galveston were transported to an incubation facility at Padre Island National Seashore, where they’ll have a better chance at survival, per Texas Parks & Wildlife. Eggs at the incubation facility can see survival rates as high as 95 percent, while those left on the beach would have about a 45 percent rate.
“This species has been with us for 140 [million], 160 million years, and we’re the ones responsible for almost sending it to extinction in the 1980s,” Marshall told the Post. “So it’s up to us to intervene and help bring this species back to a viable population level.”