This morning, I got up at 5:30am and drove to Padre Island National Seashore with my friends, Meredith and Stephanie. The only thing that would get me out of bed that early is the chance to witness the release of Kemp’s ridley sea turtle hatchlings! This was the third release the National Park Service has coordinated this summer and several hundred people came to watch. Viewers were asked not to wear white clothing, as the hatchlings orient towards the brightest thing they can see, which is normally the sun glinting off the water or whitecaps on waves. This is why light pollution from coastal cities is such a problem for sea turtle hatchlings– they unwittingly crawl towards the cities instead of the ocean when they hatch!
The clutch of turtles released today were hatched in captivity. Once the clutch hatches, they are released to the wild in a controlled setting to protect them from predators such as seagulls and curious humans. Members of the National Park Service held a mesh canopy over the turtles to deter seagulls. Volunteers also wielded long poles to frighten away birds. The turtles are protected until they reach the water and begin their long journey to the Gulf of Mexico.
Despite these efforts, the majority of the hatchlings will not survive to adulthood. This is normal for most turtle species, who produce large clutches. Kemp’s ridley females lay up to 4 clutches of 50-130 eggs each summer. If every turtle survived to adulthood, there wouldn’t be enough food or habitat to go around! But the Kemp’s ridley is still the most endangered species of sea turtle on the Gulf Coast. Conservation efforts, such as this turtle release, are helping sea turtle populations rebound!
For more information on sea turtles on the Texas Gulf Coast, check out this Padre Island website!