West Galveston Island Propery Owners Association


Turtle Watch and Nesting Meeting

NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) Facilities

Galveston, TX, 2/28/04

Tim Fontaine, Chief of the Protected Species Division) began the program. There was a headstart program in raising and releasing Kemp's ridley turtles but dropped last year. Of the 23,000 tagged turtles released, they came back to the Island after 8 years. Carle Allen was also present.

They would like to make the North Texas coast "Turtle friendly." Kathy Yeargan, US Fish & Wildlife, spoke about the five types of sea turtles in the Gulf:

The Kemp's ridley and Hawkshead are endangered while the other three are threatened. On Texas beaches you will see the Kemp's ridley and sometimes the Loggerhead and rarely the Green turtles. The Hawkshead has a beautiful shell and is used for jewelry in the Caribbean. The Green turtle can grow up to 400 lbs and the Leatherback can grow up to 2000 lbs.

The sea turtles are declining because of:

The main sea turtle we will see along the west end of Galveston Island is the Kemp's ridley. They are 2 to 2.5 feet long and gray on top. They nest from the water line to the high area of a dune and usually nest on windy days. When the Sargasso Sea seaweed is heavy on the beach, Kemp's ridleys have been known to nest there. Also, Kemp's ridleys nest usually during windy weather so the tracks are covered quickly. If you spot a turtle nesting, contact NOAA and document which way the turtle is facing (to the Gulf or landward, etc.). Do not touch the turtle or the nest. Sea turtles are endangered and threatened species and only permitted individuals can handle the turtles. There could be a fine up to $20,000 and possible jail time.

Nomenclature of a sea turtle is the underside is called a "Carapace" and the shell markings are called "Scutes".

We asked about closing the beaches to vehicles but Kathy mentioned there are not too many turtles coming on the beach to really affect the turtles. This would also apply to sand nourishment of the beaches in that it is limited and can be done.

Shannon Kethan of NOAA spoke about the nesting season is April to July in Texas with a 6- to 8-week incubation until October. At one time there were over 40,000 nests along the coast of Mexico and then as low as 702 nests. Today, they have climbed back to 3500 nests now. The hatch rate at the Padre Island incubation facility is 80%.

The turtle exclusion device system (TED) is working. Where there used to be 40 to 50 turtles caught in shrimp nets in two weeks, there maybe only 40 to 50 turtles the entire season now. If a country does not have a program to use a TEDs device, then they cannot import shrimp into the U.S.

On west Galveston Island, there were two nestings in 2002 and one in 2003 (Pirates Beach). The cycle apparently is every other year for nesting to the same area so NOAA expects more nestings this year. With beach construction and nourishment, NOAA and US Fish & Wildlife want the public to be aware of signs for turtle nesting.

The purpose in training citizens, groups, and property owner associations is to detect when a turtle nests and to document the incident. NOAA would like citizen patrols on the beaches to locate nesting turtles and to protect the nest.

If a sea turtle is spotted, please call immediately 1-866-TURTLE5 or 409 771 2872, Attention Shanna Kethan.

When a sea turtle is spotted and the licensed individual is looking at it, check for tags. There is usually a metal tag through the front back flipper. Jot down the numbers usually 3 letters and a 3 numbers. If not a tag, then it could be a living tissue tag (white mark) on one of the scutes. There could also be a magnetic tag and a pit tag. If the tag is missing, then a new one should be inserted by the licensed person. Usually, the tell tale sign of a formerly tagged turtle is a missing part of the back flipper like the size of the tag. The turtle should be measured.

Be on the lookout for tracks they are distinctive. The width of the track is important with Kemp's ridleys with a 2- to 2.5-foot width and the Loggerheads with 3 foot spread. Take the measurement not from foot to foot but from the foot and an imaginary straight line perpendicular.

If you see intersecting tracks, then the female laid eggs at the intersection. Mark the egg nest with a stick or some identifying item. Do not poke the nest with a stick or any object and leave the nest again for the permitted person.

Kemp's ridleys nest during windy weather and they can lay from 90 to 150 eggs. The entire process can take 30 to 40 minutes (the time they leave the water and go back). When the turtle is laying eggs in a 2- to 3-foot deep crater, they are in a trance and have no idea what is going on around them. NOAA will come to the nest sight and pack the eggs in a Styrofoam box. The eggs are rubbery and very durable and can be moved easily. The eggs will be packed in Galveston sand so they imprint upon hatching. The Galveston sand is good for incubation because it is dark and retains heat. The eggs are then taken to Padre Island for incubation and hatching. The temperature of the eggs is controlled at the hatchery because the warmer the eggs, the more females are produced. NOAA wants more females so temperature is critical. The females can lay eggs 2 to 3 times during the season. Males never come ashore and always stay in the water.

Although Kemp's ridleys nest during the day, they could become confused at night with bright lights on the beach. They could try to come ashore and nest somewhere near the lights. In addition, hatchlings definitely become confused if they exit the nest at night and see any bright lights. They go for the bright lights and become disoriented and die if they cannot reach the water. Also, predators like dogs, raccoons, cats, etc., take their toll of the hatchlings going for the lighted area. These types of problems occur more on the Florida beaches but we should be aware of them. The area on Padre Island where the eggs are taken is isolated and contact with humans is minimal and there are no residential areas nearby. However, we should be cognizant in the event a turtle nest is not detected in West Galveston Island and hatchlings occur.

If anyone is fortunate to witness hatchlings coming out of a nest to call immediately 1-866-TURTLE5 or 409 771- 2872, Attention Shanna Kethan. Shield the hatchlings from the sea gulls trying to catch them but do not touch the turtles.

Lots of information was available and NOAA and US Fish would like as much information as possible to be sent to residents, associations, groups, etc. The West Galveston Island Property Owners Association will have some type of program at the 3/20 meeting for people to be on the alert for sea turtles nesting on the beach.

Jerry Mohn

President, West Galveston Island Property Owners' Association

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Last updated March 18, 2004