The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, the most endangered of sea turtle species, nests from Veracruz, Mexico all the way up to Mustang Island, Texas. Each April to August, volunteers with the Padre Island National Seashore patrol the beaches looking for turtle nests.
This season, volunteers found a record 200 nests, breaking the 2011 record of 199. Tracking turtle nests on the Texas coast began in the early 1980s.
Female turtles nest every two years, laying their eggs ashore. Each group of eggs is a clutch which can include 50-130 eggs, and each nesting season, a turtle may lay one to four clutches. That’s a lot of eggs.
After a clutch hatches, they are released at Malaquite Beach at Padre Island National Seashore at 6:30 a.m. Those turtles like to get a head start on their day. The turtle release is open to the public.
The turtles, each the size of an Oreo, crawl to the surf so they can imprint the smell of the beach and no sooner than 10 years later can return to nest there. For the turtles, it’s quite a trek. Volunteers wave neon ribbons so the Laughing Gulls cannot snatch a bite-size snack. Once in the surf, the turtles’ heads bob at the surface, and they are off. They swim a mile out to reach the Sargassum seaweed beds, where they will take refuge and feed for up to a year or until they grow to be the size of a dinner plate.
The Kemp’s Ridley was placed on the Endangered Species List in 1970, and out of all the turtles hatched each year, only one percent will reach maturity.
If you’re in the Port Aransas or Corpus Christi area, check out a turtle release. It’s well worth getting up before the sun, and those turtles might give us a lesson or two on perseverance.