For the first time in 75 years, hatchlings of the world’s smallest sea turtle species have been discovered on the Chandeleur Islands, a chain of barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of New Orleans.
Wildlife experts at the Breton national wildlife refuge have documented more than 53 turtle crawls and two live hatchlings that were navigating towards the sea, Louisiana’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority announced in a press statement this week.
The news was particularly uplifting for environmentalists because the hatchlings were Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, an endangered species that also happens to be the world’s smallest sea turtle. The turtles are predominantly found in the Gulf, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Their population flourished during the early 1900s as tens of thousands of females nested in Rancho Nuevo, Mexico. However, from the mid-1900s to the 1980s, their population dropped drastically, reaching a low of only several hundred females.
Some of the major threats Kemp’s ridleys face include being caught unintentionally by fishers, being harvested or having their eggs harvested, degradation of their nesting habitats, natural predators preying on their eggs and hatchlings, being struck by sea vessels, ocean pollution and climate change.
The recent discovery of the hatchlings in Louisiana is particularly significant as 95% of the nesting take place in Tamaulipas, Mexico.
“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,” said the coastal authority’s chairman, Chip Kline.
He added: “As we develop and implement projects statewide, we are always keeping in mind what’s needed to preserve our communities and enhance wildlife habitat. Having this knowledge now allows us to make sure these turtles and other wildlife return to our shores year after year.”
Times were especially tough for the Kemp’s ridleys after the BP oils spill in 2010, as I noted here and here. This doesn’t mean that they’re out of trouble, but it is a very good sign of progress. That’s worth celebrating.