YES, I mean the Official Sea Turtle of the State of Texas! (The turtle the children at Oppe Elementary worked so hard to get it recognized as the state turtle.) Their future is uncertain if the federal government continues to push them toward extinction! In 1985, the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, often called the “Heartbreak Turtle,” was very close to extinction with only a few hundred females nesting on the northeast Gulf coast of Mexico and in Texas. Unwilling to allow this small sea turtle to join the Passenger Pigeon, the Carolina Parakeet and many other species in extinction, the United States began working to save it.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) sent money to the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville requesting that they furnish support to the Mexican nesting beaches of the Kemp’s ridleys. After that, 2,000 eggs were brought each year to the Padre Island National Seashore as a gift from the Mexican people. The eggs were incubated there and then hatchlings were moved to the Galveston sea turtle facility of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) facility where they were raised for about ten months. Hatchlings were then released into the Gulf. Public support quickly caused NMFS to enforce the regulations that made the shrimp industry use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) to prevent sea turtles from drowning in shrimp trawls, a major reason for the species decline.
The Bi-National Recovery Plan for the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle agreed upon by NMFS, FWS, and SEAMARNAT (Mexico’s environment ministry) asked for a number of successful conservation practices to be continued until there is an average population of 40,000 nesters per season over a six year period.
The Plan includes a list of “Actions Needed” many of which have helped the Kemp’s ridleys’ population increase exponentially thought 2009. They include common sense recommendations which need to be continued such as requiring shrimp fishermen to use TEDs. Unfortunately within the last few years, US government agencies have withdrawn support for many of the policies that had set this endangered sea turtle on the path to recovery. This is in addition to the problems caused by the 2010 BP oil spill that spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and the toxic dispersant that lies on food sources on the floor of the Gulf.
Three of the list of “Actions Needed” which has been abandoned by the United States are particularly disturbing. Several important Mexican agencies agreed to the Bi-National Recovery Plan for the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle believing the United States would honor the agreement. Yet, within the last few years, our government has stopped (1) “implementing the international agreement” by cutting funding for the Mexican conservation program for the Kemp’s ridleys. In 2015, no money will be given to bolster the operations of the nesting beaches in the state of Tamaulipas. Lack of funding was identified as a threat to Kemp’s ridley recovery in the Bi-National Plan.
In addition, the recommendation stated in the plan to (2) “Maintain, promote awareness of, and expand U.S. and Mexico laws,” seems doubtful at this time and last but not least, the statement that we should (3) “maintain and develop local, state, and national government partnerships” seems unimportant to NMFS and the FWS.
The Recovery Plan states that “We anticipate that the Kemp’s ridley will attain its down listing criterion of 10,000 nesting females in a season by 2021. Based on population growth rates of 19% per year, we anticipate that the Kemp’s ridley could attain its delisting criterion of an average of 40,000 nesting females per season over a 6-year period by 2024.” Their future is no longer that rosy. Nesting continues to decline in both Texas and Mexico and no one seems to be looking for the reasons.
Unless the people of the United States demand a change in the policies of the US FWS and NMFS, the Kemp’s Ridley will be on its way to extinction by 2024 instead of delisting from the Endangered Species List as had been predicted.
Since our government agencies are not keeping their word with Mexico or meeting their responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act, they are placing the endangered “heartbreak turtle” in jeopardy again.
It’s time to go to the top! Please write, call or e-mail President Obama today!
Letters: The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500
Visitor's Office: 202-456-2121
Submitted by Carole H. Allen, Gulf Office Director,
Sea Turtle Restoration Project of Turtle Island Restoration Network (www.seaturtles.org)
1982 Founder of HEART (Help Endangered Animals-Ridley Turtles)
P. O. Box 681231, Houston, Texas 77268-1231