Apr 26, 2013 9:02 AM
GALVESTON - Volunteers cruising the beach by Galveston State Park were keeping a sharp eye on the sand.
The skies were overcast. The tide was coming in, and a stiff wind was blowing out of the south. While the cool weather might keep swimmers and vacationers at bay, it was just the kind of weather Kemp's ridley sea turtles are looking for when it's time to lay their eggs.
The Galveston County Daily News reports the sea turtle nesting season began April 1 and will continue into July.
Katie Holt, a marine biology junior at Texas A&M University at Galveston, and Bobette Brasfield, a Galveston Bay Area Master Naturalist, are two of more than 100 volunteers with the Texas A&M University at Galveston Sea Life Facility who are patrolling Galveston Island beaches looking for any sign of the turtles making their way up the beach to nest.
"I like to look at the tire tracks because you can tell if (a turtle has) gone over them," Holt said as she sat in one of the Sea Life Facility's utility vehicles.
She and Brasfield would be out for five or six hours combing the beach. Much of that time is spent with the human visitors, rather than with turtles.
"We do a lot of outreach," Brasfield said. "(People will) stop and ask us what we're doing, and we have some information on the turtles that we can give out."
No turtles have been found along Galveston's beaches yet this year, but Kim Reich, director of the Texas A&M University at Galveston Sea Life Facility, is expecting one any day. Five turtles were found nesting in South Texas last week.
"If they are nesting south of us, then it is very likely that within the next day or two (they will nest here)," Reich said.
Kemp's ridley sea turtles are one of the true endangered species recovery success stories, Reich said.
In the 1940s, more than 40,000 turtles were estimated to be nesting on one day, Reich said. But that number declined to just more than 700 nests in 1985. The turtles have bounced back, though, and now scientists estimate a population of about 9,000 females, Reich said.
Galveston is on the northern edge of the Kemp's ridley's range. The majority of the nesting happens in Mexico, while South Texas is being established as a secondary nesting area, Reich said. But a few do make it up to Galveston.
Of the 209 nests found on the Texas Coast last year, 13 were found in and around Galveston, mostly on the West End.
The number of turtles today is still nowhere close to where it once was, but it is getting better, Reich said.
But it still takes constant monitoring and the watchful eyes of scientist and the turtle spotting volunteers. Reich said the outreach programs teaching beach visitors are important.
"Close to half of our notifications of sea turtles last year came from people on the beach," she said.