Turtle hatchlings racing for water along Gulf beaches

SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — This week could be one of the year’s best to witness sea turtle hatchlings racing for the safety of the Gulf of Mexico.

Things are heating up for the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley turtles, according to turtle experts at Sea Turtle Inc. on South Padre Island as well as those at the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi.

“I can tell you, this is a good week,” said Jeff George, executive director of Sea Turtle Inc. “There are thousands or, if not thousands, hundreds of babies hatching. We’ve been releasing babies the last few nights.”

George said yesterday morning the unusually cloudy days this week have been a complicating factor for turtle hatchlings, which usually are triggered to race for the ocean at sunrise.

“The babies sense temperature and in this weather they emerge at night,” he said. “They sense, ‘OK, it’s cooler, this is our time to go.’ But when it rains all day they don’t know whether it’s daylight or night-time.

“So literally 45 minutes ago we had three nests emerge, babies coming up and saying ‘Hey, let’s go, we’ve gotta get to the ocean.’ But its 10 o’clock in the morning, so our staff has been over there, pulling out these babies because they’re in the hatchery, they’re trapped. We do some research with them very quickly and then get them to the beach and get them down into the ocean.”

George said these frantic hatchings are not open for public viewing, since the staff is working so quickly to free the turtles and guide them past predators to the safety of the water.

But once this tropical disturbance and its welcome rainfall is past, probably on Thursday, things should return to a more normal schedule and early-morning releases may be re-established.

“If they emerge around 5:30 or so, because the babies are guided by light, we use sunlight, and that presents the opportunity for the public to come,” George said of the releases at Beach Access No. 3 on South Padre Island.

“We start posting to social media every morning at 5.30,” he added. “We also as a courtesy to people who are maybe even more interested, we text a certain amount of people. And those are people who have become members of the organization or perhaps they’re vacationing for just one week and they sign up for a concierge service and that service then provides them text messaging all that week.”

The Sea Turtle Inc. Facebook page, www.facebook.com/SeaTurtleConservation, will have the latest on public hatchings or people can follow on Twitter, @SeaTurtleInc

Last year 353 Kemp’s ridley turtle nests were documented in Texas, a record for the state. The vast majority of Kemp’s ridley nesting — 27,000 nests last year — occur in Mexico along the 16-mile-long Playa de Rancho Nuevo.

“This year we have recorded our second-largest total of Kemp’s ridley nests on the Texas coast since we began keeping records in 1980,” said Dr. Donna Shaver, chief of the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery.

“So far as of this moment, it’s 241,” said Dr. Donna Shaver, chief of the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery, of this year’s Texas nest total. “And when I say this moment, we had four found here at the national seashore this morning.

“This late in the season I doubt that we are going to exceed 353,” Shaver added.

SPI hatchling releases

WHEN — June and July

PUBLIC — Not all are open to the public, but some supervised by Sea Turtle Inc. are open

TIME — Dawn, between 6:30 and 7 a.m.

WHERE — County Beach Access No. 3, South Padre Island

INFO — Hatchling release times can be determined by postings on the Sea Turtle Inc. Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SeaTurtleConservation/ or by following on Twitter @SeaTurtleInc beginning at around 5:30 a.m. each morning of the hatching season. Financial contributors to the organization can receive text message alerts.

Turtle nesting top spots

Site 2018 Nests 2017 Nests

N. Padre Island 131 227

S. Padre Island 64 100

Boca Chica Beach 7 23