A Sea Turtle has Laid Eggs for the First Time on this Texas Beach
Magnolia Beach in Texas has something to celebrate, as experts believe the world's rarest sea turtle laid eggs for the first time.
Sea turtles hatching from a beach nest were observed by county maintenance workers on Monday morning, and R.J. Shelly, a Calhoun County Marine Extension Agent, was contacted by them.
Sea Grant director Pamela Plotkin, a marine scientist who specialises in sea turtles, received images of hatchlings. According to Plotkin, this species of sea turtle is the tiniest and most endangered in the world. Shelly and Plotkin were thrilled when they learned of the discovery.
"As far as we know, there's never been a Kemp's ridley nest on Magnolia Beach, ever," Shelly told CNN.
"So I kind of got down on my hands and knees and I gently brushed a little bit of sand back and then—lo and behold, there's an egg, there's one hatching," he said. "We watched several of the turtles' hatch in front of our eyes."
At least four hours later, the hatchlings were safely in the water after Shelly's assistance. According to him, the nest produced 40 to 50 sea turtle hatchlings.
"I've been working on the bay for 31 years, and I've never seen a sea turtle nest hatch," said Shelly. "Normally, a person would never get an opportunity to hold a sea turtle hatchling, but because of the danger of the roadway being so close, and the fact that these are critically endangered, the decision was made."
Plotkin told CNN that Kemp's ridley sea turtles "were once very abundant, and because they were overharvested and caught accidentally in fisheries for many years, they became critically endangered."
However, conservationists' efforts have helped the population rebound during the previous 40 years. Protecting sea turtle nests and reducing accidental deaths from fishing nets have been adopted.
"Most of them nest at only one beach in Mexico," said Plotkin. "They have started spreading north, and now we have a few hundred that will come and lay their eggs on Texas beaches."
A Kemp's ridley sea turtle is "unheard of" to swim from the ocean into Lavaca Bay, where it lays its eggs, rather than laying them on the Gulf of Mexico's beaches.
Photos of the small hatchlings sent to Plotkin by Shelly surprised her, according to Plotkin.
According to Plotkin, female sea turtles can lay 90 to 100 eggs at a time.
It's not uncommon for them to abandon nests before their eggs hatch, leaving the hatchlings open to seagulls and cars on roads.
When it's time to lay eggs, sea turtles return to the beaches where they were hatched. Scientists are still baffled as to how the turtles know where the beaches are. To assist the hatchlings' "imprint" on the beach, Shelly made sure to allow each one to explore the sand around the nest.
"We can all be grateful to R.J. for doing the right thing. To help them recall the beach, he allowed them to scramble down the sand and get a feel for their surroundings," she explained.
In 15 years, if the hatchlings are still alive, they "definitely could" return to Magnolia Beach.
According to Plotkin and Shelly, it's a success for conservation when sea turtles are born.
"Any time you see a Kemp's ridley sea turtle laying eggs on a beach, it is a win for conservationists because there were only a few hundred left on this planet in the mid-1980s," Plotkin said.