The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle—the world’s smallest, rarest and most endangered—faced a troubled history. But now, the species has a bit of good news: One of these imperiled turtles has laid eggs on a Texas beach.
To protect this new nest, conservationists carefully removed and transferred it to an incubation facility, according to ABC13. “This is because almost all nests in the upper Texas coast zone would become inundated, crushed or predated if left in place,” says Theresa Morris, rehabilitation hospital manager at Texas A&M’s Gulf Center for Sea Turtle Research, in a statement.
These threats are typical for the critically endangered turtles, which face a host of challenges. Storms and high tides have eroded Texas beaches, diminishing available nesting habitat. Eggs can be eaten by shorebirds and other predators, and as adults, the turtles might get tangled in fishing gear, struck by a ship or choked by marine trash. Climate change and sea level rise threaten to alter shorelines and ocean habitats.
Though the Kemp’s Ridley is the rarest sea turtle today, it hasn’t always been so scarce. In 1947, an amateur video taken near Rancho Nuevo, Mexico, recorded tens of thousands of nesting Kemp’s Ridleys in just one day, according to NOAA. But the population crashed in the decades that followed. To give the species a better chance at recovery, between 1978 and 1988 scientists brought eggs from Mexico to Texas and released the young turtles that hatched from there. They hoped the adult turtles would return to nest in the Lone Star state. In 2012, 209 nests were found in Texas. And globally, after reaching a low of 702 nests in 1985, the Kemp’s Ridley dug as many as 20,000 nests in 2009. But after that year, their numbers have fluctuated unpredictably.
That’s why, for such a threatened creature, “every egg matters,” says Dr. Christopher Marshall, a marine biologist at Texas A&M University at Galveston, to ABC13.
The site of this new nest—known as Babe’s Beach—has no historical records of nesting Kemp’s Ridley turtles. This conservation success was made possible by a recent shoreline replenishment project that started in 2015, according to the statement. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Galveston District routinely dredges the Galveston Channel, digging sand from the bottom so large ships can pass through. In three installments over the years, this dredged sand has been placed on the city’s beaches, primarily Babe’s Beach. Since its start, the project has moved approximately 1.7 million cubic yards of sand to fortify the shoreline.
Still, officials never planned for the transferred sand to host a rare sea turtle nest. Per the statement, this “was an unintentional benefit.”
This announcement comes on the heels of a summer that’s brought some good news for sea turtles in the southern U.S. In June, about 45 Kemp’s Ridley hatchlings successfully reached Texas’s Matagorda Bay. And last week, a beach crew in Mississippi identified turtle tracks in the sand, leading to the discovery of the first sea turtle nest found on the state’s Gulf Coast since 2018. Experts say the eggs might belong to the Kemp’s Ridley or to the endangered Loggerhead, according to the Sun Herald’s Hannah Ruhoff. They’ll know for sure once the young turtles hatch, likely within 50 to 60 days.
“After all the environmental disasters we’ve had, this is a good sign,” marine biologist Moby Solangi tells the Sun Herald. “When [turtle populations] have gone down, it means the ecosystem that supports them is having difficulty. When animals start breeding, it means things have started to get better.”