Sea Turtles' Habitat Deserves Greater Protection
Carole H. Allen - Houston Chronicle
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January 15, 2014

In 1906, Richard Kemp spotted a sea turtle on a Florida beach and later had the honor of adding his name to its identification. Years passed with little attention paid to the Kemp's ridley until June 1947, when Andres Herrera made an amateur movie that documented, for the first time, an arribada (arrival) of Kemp's ridleys - some 42,000 females nesting in a single day at Rancho Nuevo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Villagers excavated most of those nests, however, and harvested some 80 to 90 percent of the eggs that were laid. Decades later, the ridleys faced almost certain extinction; between 1978 and 1991, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service estimated that only 200 Kemp's ridleys were nesting annually.

My personal involvement with the ridleys began in 1982, when, as a volunteer, I took elementary school students to Galveston to see hatchlings being raised in a desperate attempt to save the species. The students organized Help Endangered Animals-Ridley Turtles, or HEART, and began to work for the ridleys. Always my most powerful volunteers, students have written letters to U.S. lawmakers calling for turtle-excluder device regulations (aimed primarily at the shrimping industry) and enforcement of federal laws protecting ridleys, and have pooled their nickels and dimes to buy food for hatchlings. Thousands of children have visited the Galveston facility, creating a higher level of public awareness about the killing of sea turtles.

As the Mexican government protected the ridleys' nesting beaches and turtle-excluder device regulations were enforced in the Gulf of Mexico, populations of Kemp's ridleys began to grow. Things were looking good for the ridleys - so much so that the joint United States-Mexico recovery plan predicted a 19 percent population increase from 2010 to 2020 that would lead to a down-listing under the Endangered Species Act. But that was too good to be true.

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