kemp's ridley sea turtle
Amanda Keledjian is a marine scientist at Oceana.
This week, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) released a proposed regulation that would help prevent sea turtle deaths from shrimp fishing by requiring all skimmer trawls operating in the Gulf of Mexico to use turtle excluder devices (TEDs).
Oceana and other concerned organizations welcome this exciting news after having asked NMFS to address ongoing sea turtle mortalities and enforce its own protective regulations that are crucial to the recovery and survival of these threatened and endangered species. Turtle excluder devices have effectively reduced the number of sea turtles that drown as a result of commercial fishing activities each year, and NMFS estimates that this new rule could save more than 5,500 sea turtles!
When properly attached to fishing nets, TEDs act as an escape hatch and allow captured turtles to swim freely away while shrimp accumulate in the net. However, many skimmer trawl boats have been exempt from TED requirements and were instead restricted to towing nets for shorter periods of time. Despite their proven effectiveness, it has taken many years for NMFS to require TEDs in fisheries that are known to harm turtles, with a long history of litigation surrounding this contentious issue.
Starting today, weâ€™ll be doing a weekly trivia feature of one of the fascinating species that lives in the oceans. Todayâ€™s animal is the Kempâ€™s ridley sea turtle.
Kempâ€™s ridleys are the smallest and most endangered species of sea turtle. These turtles are usually solitary and live primarily in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean, sometimes venturing up the Eastern Seaboard.
The relatively small range of the Kempâ€™s ridley sea turtle is one of the reasons its population has been declining. When population concentrations are high enough, females come onshore to lay their eggs arrive together in mass landings (the name of these landings is our weekly trivia question on Twitter, so answer now to win!) Eggs and hatchlings make easy prey for dogs, herons, and humansâ€”and some cultures believe sea turtle eggs are aphrodisiacs.
Adult sea turtles are particularly at risk of drowning after being accidentally caught in the nets of shrimp trawlers and other fishermen. Adding turtle excluder devices to nets allow turtles to escape and have made a difference in turtle bycatch deaths, although these rates are still high. Oceanaâ€™s sea turtle campaign focuses on preventing sea turtle bycatch, protecting habitat, and promoting legislation that keeps turtles safe.
Last Friday the National Aquarium and Oceana released three endangered Kempâ€™s ridley sea turtles into the Chesapeake Bay at Maryland's Point Lookout State Park. The turtles came to the National Aquarium this winter from the New England Aquarium, after they were found stranded along Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
Kempâ€™s ridleys are the most endangered and smallest of all sea turtle species, making them particularly vulnerable to severe changes in water temperature. These turtles suffered from cold stunning - the sea turtle equivalent of hypothermia. After months of long-term rehabilitation by the National Aquariumâ€™s Marine Animal Rescue Program (MARP), the turtles, named Oceana, Prancer and Vixen, were released back into the wild.
Sea turtles commonly feed on an assortment of jellies and invertebrates in the Chesapeake Bay during warm summer months, which is why Aquarium officials chose this date and location for the release. These turtles are expected to stay in the mid-Atlantic region or head north for the remainder of the summer, before eventually heading south again in the fall.
Oceana the sea turtle sported a small satellite transmitter that will track its location and speed for several months, helping researchers learn more about sea turtle migration and travel patterns. You can follow Oceanaâ€™s (and the other two turtlesâ€™) progress at the Aquariumâ€™s website. Check out more photos from the release on Flickr!
From Reuters UK today: The oil spill poses a large threat to the Kemp's Ridley population which makes its home in the Gulf. "This is a major blow to that population," said Todd Steiner, executive director of the California-based Turtle Restoration Project, said. "Here you have a situation where the adults, hatchlings and juveniles are all in the Gulf."
From Reuters UK today:
The oil spill poses a large threat to the Kemp's Ridley population which makes its home in the Gulf.
"This is a major blow to that population," said Todd Steiner, executive director of the California-based Turtle Restoration Project, said. "Here you have a situation where the adults, hatchlings and juveniles are all in the Gulf."
Kempâ€™s ridley sea turtles, the smallest species of sea turtle, participate in one of the most intriguing nesting rituals, called arribadas, meaning â€śarrivalsâ€ť in Spanish. During an arribada, huge numbers of female Kempâ€™s ridleys waddle up beaches simultaneously to lay their eggs.
These already threatened sea turtles are facing further obstacles from the Gulf oil spill. If you havenâ€™t already done so, please sign the petition to stop offshore drilling to help protect these turtles and other crucial wildlife in the future.
A few days ago, more than 20 dead Kemp's ridley sea turtles washed up on Mississippiâ€™s shores. While there is no evidence the deaths are linked to the oil spill, the incident may be merely foreshadowing whatâ€™s to come for sea turtles in the Gulf.
Sea turtles come to the surface to breathe, and NOAA reports that between 30 and 50 sea turtles (species unknown) were seen swimming yesterday in or near the oil spill. It may be only a matter of time until we see oiled turtles stranded on beaches as well.
Kempâ€™s ridleys, the smallest and most threatened sea turtle in the world, typically spend their entire lives in the Gulf of Mexico, nesting only on beaches in Mexico and southern Texas, giving them the name the â€śGulfâ€™s Sea Turtleâ€ť. And right now is the peak migration season for the turtles as they return to their nesting grounds.