PRESS RELEASE

Record Green Sea Turtle Nesting on Padre Island  

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For Immediate Release:  Thursday, September 10, 2020
Contact:  Kirsten Stade kstade@peer.org

Record Green Sea Turtle Nesting on Padre Island  

Park Service Cuts Green Turtle Program Just as Need for Protection Spikes 

Washington, DC — Record numbers of green turtles are nesting on Texas’ Gulf coast just as the National Park Service is cutting back on the program designed to ensure those eggs successfully hatch and the hatchlings reach the sea, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).  More sea turtles of several species now nest or are stranded on Padre Island than anywhere else in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico.

A record 35th green turtle nest was just found on the Texas coast, 34 of which were on Padre Island (27 on North Padre and 7 on South Padre).  The previous record was 29 green turtle nests in Texas in 2017. By way of comparison, from 1987 to 2019, there were 111 confirmed green turtle nests on the Texas coast, 97 of which were within the Padre Island National Seashore.

A new study suggests that even higher numbers of these threatened sea turtles may return to Texas’ Padre Island if habitat protections and incubation support remain strong.  Increased green turtle nesting in Texas appears indicative of a trend likely to continue and escalate, based on numbers from nearby nesting beaches in Mexico and Florida.

These findings are contained in a new peer-reviewed study entitled “Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) Nesting Underscores the Importance of Protected Areas in the Northwestern Gulf of Mexico.”  The lead author is Dr. Donna Shaver, the Director of the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery (STSR) at Padre Island National Seashore.

At the same time as numbers of green turtles reaching Texas’ shores are spiking, the National Park Service is significantly cutting back on sea turtle, especially green turtle, recovery efforts –

  • The STSR was ordered to turn back approximately $300,000 in grant funds it had been awarded for green turtle recovery work through 2023 even though Padre Island is the most important green turtle nesting beach in the U.S. northwestern Gulf of Mexico;
  • Despite the study’s recommendation that increased beach patrols are needed to “locate, document, and protect nesting green turtles and their nests”, the Park Service is reducing Padre Island beach patrols; and
  • Loss of suitable habitat and climate change driven sea level rise are limiting factors on green turtle recovery, yet the Park Service is deemphasizing green turtle work and limiting sea turtle recovery to the boundaries of the National Seashore.

“The Gulf coast of Texas may be on the cusp of a prolonged surge in green turtle nesting,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch.  “Unfortunately, at a moment when the Park Service should be stepping up to meet a key conservation challenge, it is retreating behind bureaucratic walls,”

By the time sea turtle fisheries were prohibited in Texas in 1963, green turtle catch had declined to almost non-existent levels. In addition, much about the genetic structure of the green turtle population that nests in Texas remains unknown, and it may be a unique management unit, separate from the turtles nesting in Mexico.

“The return of green turtles to the Texas Gulf coast should be celebrated as a major conservation achievement,” added Ruch. “As Texas is becoming an epicenter of sea turtle nesting, the Park Service inexplicably wants to redirect Texas funding to Florida and North Carolina.”

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Read the new study

  Look at sea turtle stranding numbers in Gulf of Mexico during the past decade

 See Padre Island National Seashore green turtle grants forfeit

Examine the cutbacks being imposed on Padre Island sea turtle program