Local News

Aug 16, 2013 12:45 PM by Janine Reyes

Scientists Investigating Troubling Trend in Kemp's Ridley Numbers

NATIONAL PADRE ISLAND SEASHORE -- More than 3 years after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, some effects of the mess are still being felt.

Along North Padre Island, research is still being gathered to figure out if and how that spill could have affected the endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtle.

"There's our remaining Kemp's Ridley clutch down here, this is the only thing we've got left," said Donna Shaver, as she showed us the sea turtle incubation room on North Padre Island. Shaver is chief of the national seashore's Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery program.

For 33 years, Shaver's life has revolved around sea turtles, primarily the endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtles found so prominently on our beaches.

This year, though, despite larger crowds turning out to watch the releases, there are fewer Kemp's Ridleys hatching here.

"There is concern about the trends in the nest numbers for Kemps Ridley both in Texas and in Mexico," Shaver said.

That is disturbing because for many years, the recovery efforts brought more Kemp's Ridley hatchlings here.

The Kemps Ridley recovery plan estimated an increase of 12 - 18% each year.

Instead, Shaver and her staff found 199 nests in 2011, 209 nests in 2012 and only 152 this year.

"Since 2009, its basically leveled out, the number of nests per year when you look at the period from 2009-2013," Shaver explained.

Shaver is the principal researcher trying to determine if and how the Deepwater Horizon spill may have impacted the endangered Kemp's Ridley turtles.

Because there could be future litigation, she cannot reveal all they've found. Her research is continuing today.

But, scientists do know that the spill happened in a prime area for migrating and nesting turtles and that is troubling.

Remember, the drop in Kemp's Ridley hatchlings started in 2009.

"Again, 2010 was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but, it could be other possibilities two that we need to investigate," Shaver said.

While the findings in that investigation will not bring those turtles back, it could lead to funding that could help this endangered species.

"There could be fines or settlement packages where there's money that's used to help restore the organisms that were impacted," Shaver explained.

To learn more about sea turtles found along North Padre Island, and find out about public sea turtle releases, you can follow the Padre Island National Seashore Division of Sea Turtle Recovery here.

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