Before sea turtle nesting season officially even began this year, one species made a miraculous recovery. Kemp’s ridley sea turtles recently hatched in Louisiana’s Chandeleur Islands. This marks the first time the species has produced hatchlings in around 75 years.
Keep reading for all the details.
Kemp’s ridley sea turtle hatchlings were just spotted on the Chandeleur Islands.
The Chandeleur Islands refers to a series of barrier islands located by eastern Louisiaina, within the Gulf of Mexico. The islands are uninhabited by humans, but are rich with wildlife, including birds, rabbits, and sea turtles.
On Aug. 17, 2022, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) and Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) shared in a news release that they discovered hatchlings of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtles in the Breton National Wildlife Refuge.
According to the two agencies, this is the first recorded sighting in 75 years of any wild sea turtle hatchlings on the Chandeleur Islands. As of Aug. 17, the researchers had observed at least 53 sea turtle crawls, as well as two live hatchlings walking towards the water.
“Louisiana was largely written off as a nesting spot for sea turtles decades ago, but this determination demonstrates why barrier island restoration is so important,” Chip Kline, CRPA Chairman, said in a statement. “Having this knowledge now allows us to make sure these turtles and other wildlife return to our shores year after year.”
LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet added that this discovery means “the islands’ value to the region has been elevated,” and that it is helping researchers gain “a better understanding of the benefits this barrier island restoration may provide in the recovery of this endangered species.”
Are Kemp’s ridley sea turtles endangered? Here’s what you need to know about this important species.
Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are classified as Critically Endangered by the IUCN, and they are protected by the Endangered Species Act. In fact, they are the most endangered sea turtles species in the U.S., as per AP News.
It is also the smallest sea turtle species; an adult female Kemp’s ridley’s shell typically measures no larger than 28 inches long, and they typically do not weight more than 100 pounds, as noted by the Loggerhead Marinelife Center.
Why are Kemp’s ridley sea turtles so badly endangered? The center attributes this to two main things: harvesting their eggs and the commercial fishing industry.
When massive trawling nets are used in the fishing industry, they do not only collect target marine species — non-target species are caught in nets so often that there is a name for them: bycatch. Sea turtles, dolphins, sharks, and whales caught in these nets are often left to die, and the Loggerhead Marinelife Center notes that trawling has killed hundreds of thousands of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles.
The Chandeleur Islands are still recovering from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
A third factor that contributed to the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle’s struggle over the past 12 years is the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, the Regional Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, noted that the department has been working with partners to restore habitats and wildlife populations along the Gulf of Mexico since the infamous spill.
“The discovery of sea turtles nesting and successfully hatching is a huge step forward demonstrating the amazing resilience of fish and wildlife resources, including threatened and endangered species, and the importance of restoring these barrier islands to protect humans and nature,” Miranda-Castro stated.
CPRA’s Executive Director Bren Haase added that the team hopes “to see additional hatchlings emerging in the weeks and years to come,” since sea turtle season is still in full swing.