Thursday, March 3, 2011

Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles

Photo credit: USFWS Endangered Species Program, via flickr // CC BY 2.0

I am currently taking a nature literature course. As part of my class, I'm reading The Windward Road by Archie Carr. Originally published in 1956, this engaging, scientific travelogue follows Dr. Carr as he wanders through the Caribbean islands studying sea turtles. This book drew attention to the plight of the sea turtles and their need for conservation. Today's Sea Turtle Conservancy has its origins in this book.

At the time of the book's publication, no one knew where the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle nested. People speculated that babies were born in the sea or even that it was a cross between a loggerhead and a green. Carr was puzzled by this turtle.

Reading his words, I could relate to Carr's confusion. I've always heard that the Kemp's Ridley is the rarest of all sea turtles, but I never knew why.

After publication of the book, the primary Kemp's Ridley nesting ground was finally identified by scientists - on a ten mile stretch of Mexican beach. Even today, 95% of females still nest on this beach. Imagine! No wonder they are so rare.

According to NOAA, the population of Kemp's Ridley has fluctuated but it is generally in decline. In 1947, a video recording showed 40,000 nesting females. By the mid-1980's, this number was down to 700. Thanks to conservation efforts, things were looking up for the Kemp's Ridley in the early 2000's, with almost 7,000 nests in 2003. Unfortunately, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has further decimated the numbers of this critically endangered species. If you look at the range of where they live, you can see why. I hope and pray for their recovery.

Unlike in Carr's day, when turtles were banded with metal tags, today's turtles are monitored using satellite tracking. You can even "adopt" sea turtles! And care of injured and wounded sea turtles has greatly improved. So there is hope! Maybe I will have to take a trip over to the National Aquarium and see if I can meet some Kemp's Ridleys ...

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