Back in the summer of 2000 I did a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle tagging internship with my university, Texas A&M at Galveston. We spent the summer catching sea turtles adjacent to jetties in Sabine Pass, Texas and two other passes in Louisiana. It was there that I fell in love with sea turtles, namely the Kemp’s ridley which is the smallest and most endangered of the sea turtles in the world. I loved them so much ‘Ridley’ became my trail name while on the Appalachian Trail and is still my trail name today.
Two weekends ago Chris and I, along with some coworkers, volunteered for the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Shell-e-bration down on Stewart Beach in Galveston. It was hosted by the Sea Turtle Restoration Project with many different state, federal and local agencies/organizations with booths set up to educate beach goers about the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, but also to celebrate that the state of Texas making it the offical sea turtle of Texas, much like we have a state bird or tree, etc.
We were there most of the day talking to all of the folks coming to the beach when sometime around lunch time we found out that the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) was going to be bringing two ridleys to release! The two turtles had been caught in shrimp nets (or fishing nets, I can’t recall) a year ago and had been rehabilitated at the lab in Galveston over the year. It’s been years since I’ve seen a ridley, but I’ve seen many other sea turtles since then while we lived in Florida, primarily loggerheads, so I was incredibly stoked! Kemp’s ridleys historically nested on Texas beaches with the primary arribada nesting being done on certain beaches in Mexico. However, with the decimation of the sea turtle population in the Gulf of Mexico it was many years before Texas finally started seeing nesting sea turtles on its beaches again. Most of the nests are located on South Padre Island with others scattered along the coast elsewhere. There had been an upsurge in nesting done by ridleys within the last 10 years but it seems the last two years have seen a decline in the number of nests and a lot of folks are worried about potential reprucussions from the BP oil spill four years ago finally having their affect on the population. It’ll be interesting to see how the trend goes in coming years.
Anyway, when we found out that two turtles were going to be released I was very excited! I was also nervous because Stewart Beach was incredibly packed that weekend! Luckily we found a great spot down at the waterline, where most people didn’t want to stand, and got a great view of the two turtles being released. Of course I brought just one lens for the event, a 50mm, thinking I was going to be taking people shots to share with my coworkers so I had to make do with that lens. If only I’d had the long lens! I ended up zooming and cropping some of the photos you see in order to crop out the crowd and to get a better look at the turtles. I was happy to see I got at least one good shot with the flipper tag in one of the turtles.
It was an awesome end to the event and I’m glad the folks who were there got to see a sea turtle being released. It is not a common event in Texas whereas in Florida there are turtle walks and hatchling walks with various organizations around the state.