Conservation success for the rarest and smallest species of sea turtle, the Kemp’s ridley, has recently halted.
Thirty years ago, Kemp’s ridleys were on the brink of extinction. Scientists estimate that in the 1940s, about 48,000 female Kemp’s ridleys visited their main nesting site in Tamaulipas, Mexico, to lay eggs. By the mid-1980s and due to incidental capture, hunting for their meat and eggs, and threats to their nesting habitat, however, this number was down to 200-300 females. Thanks to conservation efforts, such as laws requiring Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) in certain types of shrimp nets, which allow captured turtles to escape when they’re caught in fishing gear, nesting rates began to increase by as much as 15 percent every year.
So why has this growth stopped in the last six years?
Scientists have found that the number of nests observed annually has plummeted, with nesting levels at about 10 percent of what they were in the 1940s. The number of sea turtles washing ashore dead in the Gulf of Mexico has increased to nearly double the annual average from 1998-2005, with 435 stranding in 2011, 365 in 2012, and 416 in 2013.
Although the reason for this decline in nesting and increase in strandings is unknown, one thing is certain: with so few Kemp’s ridley turtles remaining, each creature is important for the survival of the species. And right now, there is an opportunity for the federal government to take a simply action that would help save thousands of sea turtles every year.
The Kemp’s ridley has been listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act for 36 years. Despite this protection, we remain far from achieving the goals necessary to de-list the species.
Yet, we can learn from past successes. The population growth that Kemp’s ridleys have experienced since the 1990s has largely been credited to the use of TEDs. About 2,400 skimmer trawls fishing in the Gulf of Mexico right now are not required to use TEDs and thousands of sea turtles, mostly Kemp’s ridleys, continue to drown in nets each year. In order to save these amazing creatures, as well as the four other species of sea turtles that are caught in these waters, Oceana is leading a campaign to ask President Obama and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker to take action to protect sea turtles and require all U.S. shrimp trawl nets to be equipped with TEDs.
Learn more and see how you can help by sending your own letter or drawing of support by clicking here http://usa.oceana.org/turtles. Oceana will be presenting all letters and drawings we collect to the White House on June 16 for World Sea Turtle Day.