By HARVEY RICE
The satisfaction of discovering the first nest this year made by an endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle on the upper Texas Gulf Coast on Monday was muted by worry about how this mating season will be affected by the BP oil disaster.
The first nest of the nesting season, which usually begins close to April 1, was discovered at Hershey Beach on the western end of Galveston Island by a researcher from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration checking for stranded species, said Tasha Metz, senior research assistant at the Sea Turtle and Fisheries Ecology Research Laboratory at Texas A&M University Galveston.
The 121 eggs were packed in a special crate for shipment to Padre Island National Seashore for incubation, Metz said.
Most Kemp’s ridleys nest on the southern Texas coast where four were found Monday, bringing the total nests discovered on the entire Texas coast to 23 this year, according to data from Donna Shaver, National Parks Service scientist who heads Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at the National Seashore.
Environmentalists like Carole Allen, who heads the Gulf office of the Sea Turtle Restoration Project, worry that the BP oil spill could adversely affect the Kemp’s ridley after it has struggled back from the edge of extinction.
“The nesting season is even more critical this year since adult Kemp’s ridley sea turtles that nested during 2010 were tracked swimming east into waters heavily oiled by the BP oil spill,” Allen said.
Metz said the A&M lab is taking samples from nesting turtles to determine whether they are affected by the oil spill as part of a survey required by the Oil Pollution Act of 1991.
The oil spill combined with a cold snap to reduce the number of nests at the main nesting site at Rancho Nuevo, Mexico, from 22,000 to 13,000 in 2010. Nests at the secondary site on Padre Island fell from 180 to 123 but on the upper coast rose from 17 to 18.