“We had a sea turtle wash up once with a trash can and lid entangled around his flipper,” said marine biologist Theresa Morris ’10 ’13, who oversees Texas A&M-Galveston’s short-term hospital and will later manage the planned hospital. “To start, only one in 1,000 eggs survive to adulthood. They are susceptible to ants, fungus, racoons, armadillos and coyotes. If they hatch, they fall prey to birds and snakes. People walk and drive on them in the dunes. They also face challenges due to sea level rise, climate change and loss of beach habitat.”
When hatchlings make it to sea, they float on mats of sargassum seaweed, hiding and dining on other small sea creatures. They ingest small plastics there, too, mistaking it for food. As they grow, the dangers range from discarded fishing nets and boat strikes to natural marine predators and rapid drops in temperature, which can cause hypothermia.
Marine biologist Kari Howard ’07, coordinator for the sea turtle hotline, data management and volunteer response team of the Texas Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network for the Upper Texas Coast, said assessing each stranded turtle helps craft a message to the community. “It helps change behavior. If we see high incidences of monofilament fishing line, for example, where turtles are tangled in it or ingest it, we can let the community know. People love sea turtles and, with more education, everyone can play a role in protecting them.”
These measures, combined with the future hospital, are a monumental step in rebuilding the state’s sea turtle population and saving the Kemp’s ridley, whose ancestors survived the extinction of the dinosaurs. “They are the models of perseverance and resilience,” Marshall said. “If people become fascinated with sea turtles, they might become fascinated with oceans and start taking care of our marine environment. That’s good for everybody.”