By Robert S. Becker
South Padre Island, Texas: Sidestepping this week's oncoming hurricane, my wife and I just returned from the south Texas coast where we observed 116 soup spoon-sized hatchling sea turtles marching boldly into the Gulf. It was a heartrending turtle release full of beauty, promise and dread, an emblem of the fierce battle between life and death on the Gulf. Today's scorecard favors the grim reaper as spreading oil pollution menaces both our largest shrimp-turtle-fish nursery and up to one-third of the world's oceans.
These liberated small fry, having been retrieved as eggs 50 days earlier, are Kemp's ridley turtles even before BP's deluge the world's most endangered sea turtle.[jpg1]Most Kemp's, especially breeding stock, inhabit the Gulf of Mexico, thus remain highly reliant on doomed coastal sea grass swamped by the world's worst environmental calamity.
Our experience combined delight and sadness, though turtle fry are hardly alone in facing extermination. Oddly, the same reactionary forces still bellowing "drill, baby, drill" and shrill about unborn fetuses appear indifferent to the demise of live, independent wildlife babies. Too bad there's no hunting season for endangered sea turtles.
"Kill, baby, kill"
Hunting isn't necessary for numbers are greatly reduced. Turtle releases are not fully natural but the outcome of dedicated conservation that saves eggs from high predation. Along with other condemned creatures, from miniature crabs hiding in seaweed to an infinity of birds to whales, turtles can't abide inhaling, digesting or soaking up sludge. Wildlife is so finicky.
We saw other wonders, like two dozen 15" juvenile (green) turtles feeding off Mustang Island and a dozen or so displayed adults (Kemp's, greens and loggerheads) at Sea Turtle, Inc. in South Padre. All eight worldwide sea turtles are endangered by reckless fish and shrimp harvesting, nest predation, for flesh, eggs, and beautiful shells (for jewelry, apparel), by marine propellers and ocean pollution (from plastic, fishing lines, oil). Now, thanks to impassioned groups like Sea Turtle, Inc., the same magical species callously terminated (reportedly burned alive recently within noxious oil slicks) depend on high human intercession for survival.
Gulf seas turtles have, for two years, been our focus because my wife is writing a teen novel about a 14 year-old girl who changes her life after stumbling on a nesting turtle on a Texas beach. That the Kemp's ridley singularly nests during the day (if undisturbed) won its starring role.