About 30 persons, a mix of Sea Turtle, Inc. staff, interns, volunteers, two NOAA representatives and one from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife, braved rough seas on June 28 that left many on the boat feeling as green as seaweed.
Their mission during the early hours before dawn was to release 94 Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, and four hawksbills, into the wild.
The four hawksbills were rehabilitated turtles from Sea Turtle, Inc. that were ready for release.
The 94 ridleys were born on here in August 2013 and were sent to Florida for use in National Marine Fisheries research on turtle excluder devices, also known as TEDs.
TEDs are special devices used in shrimp trawl nets that enables sea turtles to escape from the catch before drowning.
Due to the large amounts of bycatch, which are animals that are unintentionally caught, the U.S. set laws in 1987 requiring all shrimping vessels to use TED nets.
The device has a set of bars in the net opening that will not allow anything larger than the space between the bars to pass through, which saves larger turtles.
But there has been some concern as to whether small turtles, such as those in their first years, could pass through the device, which is what the NMF research project investigated.
The Osprey, one of Osprey Cruises deepsea fishing boats, took the turtles and turtle staff 15 miles offshore for release in an area where sargassum floats are common.
These young turtles rely on the sargassum as a food source and protection from predators.
Releasing sea turtles into the wild is one key part of Sea Turtle, Inc.’s mission. As a sea turtle hospital, education center, and conservation nonprofit organization, any turtle that can be released into the wild is a victory.
“Sea turtles return to their natal beaches as adults,” Jeff George, STI’s executive director, said. “The Texas coast is established as an important nesting habitat for the recovery of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtles.
“It is important that they were released here, and return here to nest, so they can contribute to the recovery of their species,” George said.
It takes 12 years before the Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are ready to reproduce.
“All the turtles were tagged,” he said, “and hopefully 11 years from now, we will see these same Kemp’s ridleys on our beaches, nesting.”