5 thoughts on “Sea turtle evolution research

  1. Turtle egg seekers hope for large find
    Officials: 200 nests could be on local beaches

    * By Jaime Powell
    * Posted March 20, 2010 at 8:43 p.m.

    CORPUS CHRISTI — The Easter Bunny has competition on North Padre Island where more than 100 grown-ups are preparing to look for a different sort of egg.

    Searchers are looking for faint, 2-foot wide trails in the sand that will lead them to endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle eggs.

    “It’s a lot more fun than Easter,” said Dan Tholen, a veteran egg chaser. “They are quite a bit rarer than Easter eggs were as a kid.”

    The Texas coast has seen a record number of turtle nests, jumping from 11 in 2001 to 197 in 2009 as the result of preservation efforts. Every year hundreds of tourists watch during public releases as Donna Shaver, chief of sea turtle science and recovery at Padre Island National Seashore, and volunteers shepherd tiny turtles safely into the water and out of the clutches of seagulls.

    The Texas nesting season typically runs April to July. Some female turtles breed annually and nest an average of one to four times in a season.

    Tholen has been a turtle patrol volunteer for three of the past four years. He and a couple of dozen others went to Sea Turtle School on Wednesday and Thursday.

    They learned how to spot nests, how to take care of nesting female turtles and how to drive the patrol vehicles used for searches.

    Tholen found eggs his second day three years ago. Others hunt for months or years and never see a sign of a turtle or nest.

    “It feels excellent to see things few people ever see,” Tholen said.

    Volunteers work five-hour shifts starting as early as 6:30 a.m., seven days a week. Each shift covers about 20 miles of beach. If they are lucky enough to find a nest, which usually contains about 100 eggs, it is loaded into a Styrofoam cooler and hauled to an incubator at seashore headquarters. Hatching takes several weeks.

    The 200 or so nests local searchers hope to find this year in Texas are a far cry from the 40,000 Kemp’s ridley turtles that experts estimate nested in 1947 on a stretch of beach near Rancho Nuevo, Mexico.

    Kemp’s ridley turtles were decimated by a combination of factors, including environmental issues, shrimpers’ nets and natural predators such as sharks or humans, who have made cowboy boots out of their skin, eaten their flesh and valued the eggs for food and their supposed aphrodisiac qualities, according to conservation agencies.

    Protection efforts started in the 1960s, but there were 5,000 nests in Mexico by 1968. The turtles were listed as an endangered species in the U.S. in 1970.

    The U.S. and Mexico have successfully coordinated nest protection efforts, Shaver said. In 2009, the total number of nests recorded at Rancho Nuevo exceeded 20,000 from about 8,000 females. In Texas, from 2002 through 2009, a total of 771 Kemp’s ridley nests have been documented, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    Shaver believes this year could be a banner year for the turtles on the South Texas coast.

    “They are still the most endangered turtles in the world, but I’m excited their numbers are increasing,” Shaver said.

    Clark Williams, a retired dentist, who is starting his first year on turtle patrol, is confident he will find a nest. He hopes to spend at least 10 hours a week looking.

    But for Williams, it’s not about the egg.

    “I have a fondness for everything in nature,” he said. “And I’m very concerned about the future. If we don’t take care of our stuff we are going to lose it before our grandchildren get to enjoy it.”

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