NORTH PADRE ISLAND, Texas — Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are returning to the Texas coast to nest, and scientists are asking beach-goers to report turtle sightings, while also extending an invitation for visitors to witness releases of captive-raised turtle hatchlings crawling toward the sea.

As of May 4, 28 Kemp’s Ridley nests had been located on the Texas coast during 2006, including 22 at Padre Island National Seashore, two on South Padre Island, two on Boca Chica Beach, one on Matagorda Island, and one on Galveston Island.

The recent run of sea turtle sightings signals the arrival of peak turtle nesting season in Texas in May and June. The news for the Ridley is mostly good—more of these turtles continue to nest on Texas beaches than in past years, including some who were reared in captivity and released years ago and are now returning to nest as adults.

However, the Ridley remains on the endangered species list, and its populations are still vulnerable to natural disasters and human development and activity. A network of government and university scientists and volunteers is helping to track sea turtle nesting and support conservation and research efforts.

For the past several years, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has worked with a host of other agencies including the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, Gladys Porter Zoo, University of Texas, officials in Mexico and others to restore the Kemp’s ridley.

There are several likely reasons for the increased number of turtle nestings on Texas beaches. Recent rapid increases in the Mexico nesting population probably caused the Kemp’s ridley to expand their nesting range. In 2001, TPWD put into action new commercial shrimping regulations that restricted the size and number of shrimping trawls per vessel in near-shore waters from the beach to nine nautical miles out into the Gulf of Mexico, an area where sea turtles feed, mate and come to the beach to nest. Another shrimping regulation includes a seven-month seasonal ban on shrimp trawling from lower coast Gulf beaches to five miles offshore. Both regulations were designed to reduce fishing pressure on shrimp near the beach; however, sea turtles were afforded more protection from the regulations as well. Also, the use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) by commercial shrimpers is another major reason the Kemp’s ridley and other sea turtle populations are rebounding, since the devices allow turtles to escape shrimp trawls.

To protect as many sea turtles as possible, the Padre Island National Seashore incubates most of the sea turtle eggs found along the Texas coast and releases the hatchlings into the Gulf of Mexico. Donna Shaver, Ph.D. and Chief of the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at Padre Island National Seashore has been working with sea turtles for more than 20 years.

People are encouraged to report sea turtle sightings on Texas beaches by phoning toll free (866) TURTLE5. The public can also witness sea turtle hatchling releases at the national seashore on certain dates mid-June through August. The releases usually take place around 6:45 a.m. and are free to attend—see the national seashore sea turtle Web pages for details. General information about Ridley turtles is also on the TPWD Web site.

– Texas Saltwater Fishing Guide