As storm surges drown eggs and rough surf strands weeks-old hatchlings, workers at Sea Turtle, Inc., a rescue and rehabilitation non-profit based on South Padre Island, are racing to save endangered sea turtles.
Rescue center staff began preparing for Harvey on Wednesday, collecting eggs from nests along 50 miles of beach from the Rio Grande River to Port Mansfield.
“We knew the surge would be significant enough that that the eggs would have been drowned, said Jeff George, Sea Turtle, Inc.’s executive director.
Once recovered, the eggs were placed in sand inside styrofoam coolers. They’re now incubating in a warm, dark room until they can be re-released after the hurricane.
On Saturday, staff will turn to the task of rescuing helpless baby turtles washed up on shore. Because it’s hatching season, hundreds of thousands of recent hatchlings are now riding the currents in the Gulf of Mexico. Ordinarily, the turtles would spend the first year to two years of life hiding in floating seaweed; once washed ashore, they have no way to fend for themselves against predators.
“We’re going to be driving in four-wheel-drive vehicles, going slowly looking for turtles that aren’t much bigger than the palm of your hand,” George said. “We could potentially see hundreds of post-hatchlings washed up on beaches.”
The first two stranded hatchlings have already taken up temporary residence at the Sea Turtle, Inc. rescue center. Reaching into a white utility sink in a back room, George pulled out a turtle in each gloved hand. One was a Hawksbill, just two to three weeks old, that the storm had carried far off course from its nesting beach in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula.
The other was a critically endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, which nests only in northeast Mexico and the Texas Gulf Coast.
“This is the most endangered of all sea turtles,” George said. “These guys are out there at the mercy of the currents and storms.”
– Daniel Blue Tyx