PADRE ISLAND NATIONAL SEASHORE PARK, TEXAS
A WELCOME RETURN
The Kemps ridley sea turtle dug furiously with her back flippers as she carved out a flask-shaped hole to lay her eggs. She wasn't aware of the excitement she generated among the scientists, volunteers and others watching on Padre Island National Seashore in Texas.
This year, each nest has added significance: The turtle that created it survived the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history. The Deepwater Horizon explosion on April 20, 2010, happened when the Kemps ridleys typically would have been in the area. Most of the 456 visibly oiled turtles rescued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service last year were Kemps ridleys.
As of May 24, 155 Kemps ridley nests had been spotted on Texas shores — more than in all of last year and more than had been counted by that day in 2009 and 2008. The goal for the Kemps ridleys is to have 10,000 nesters a season by 2020. At that point, the smallest and most endangered sea turtle could be upgraded to threatened.
Sea turtles often forage off the hard-hit Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi coasts before or after nesting along the Texas Gulf Coast. Since they don't reach reproductive age for at least a decade, the full effects of the oil spill might not be known for years.