For the first time in 75 years, hatchlings of the world’s smallest species of sea turtle have been discovered on the Candlemas Islands, a chain of barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico off New Orleans.
Wildlife experts at the Brittany National Wildlife Refuge have documented more than 53 turtle crawls and two live hatchlings that sailed out to sea, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority said in a news release this week.
The news was particularly uplifting for conservationists, as the hatchlings were Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, an endangered species that also happens to be the world’s smallest sea turtle. Turtles are primarily found in the Gulf, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Their population flourished in the early 1900s when 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 a few hundred females.
Some of the major threats Kemp’s ridleys face include unintentional capture by anglers, harvesting or harvesting of their eggs, degradation of their nesting habitats, natural predators feeding on their eggs and new born, collisions with seagoing vessels, ocean pollution and climate change.
The recent discovery of hatchlings in Louisiana is particularly significant since 95% of nesting takes place in Tamaulipas, Mexico.
“Louisiana was widely considered a nesting ground for sea turtles decades ago, but this decision shows why restoring barrier islands is so important,” said Coastal Authority Chairman Chip Kline. .
He added, “As we develop and implement projects across the state, we always keep in mind what is needed to preserve our communities and improve wildlife habitat. This knowledge now allows us to ensure that these turtles and other wildlife return to our shores year after year.
The BP oil spill resulting from the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010 has significantly affected the Candlemas Islands, as well as various hurricanes and other tropical weather systems in recent years. As a result, the Coastal Authority and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries have been closely monitoring the islands since May as part of a regional effort to restore them. The effort is to replenish and protect various marine species that were affected by the oil spill.
“It is well known that the Chandeleur Islands provide key habitats for a multitude of important species; however, with the recent discovery of a successful hatching of Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, the value of the islands to the region has been elevated,” said Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Jack Montoucet.
“We have a better understanding of the benefits that this barrier island restoration can bring in the recovery of this endangered species in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Coastal Authority Executive Director Bren Haase added, “We have a responsibility to protect wildlife here, and that means creating safe and nurturing environments for these turtles and other animals that call Louisiana home. It’s an exciting discovery, and we hope to see more newborns emerge in the weeks and years to come.
Peak sea turtle nesting season is June through July, with most hatchlings beginning to emerge 50 to 60 days later. Additional nests could be discovered in the coming weeks, according to the coastal authority.
In addition to Kemp’s Tortoises, wildlife experts have also discovered the endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtles nesting on the islands.