Efforts to protect endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles threatened

HOUSTON - The endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle is one of nature's success stories that may be taking a blow. Recent budget slashing will cut down on beach patrols that monitor the animals during nesting season.

"Our efforts are helping ensure the safety of these animals and ensuring the reproductive success of the offspring they are leaving behind," said Claire Iseton, graduate student at Texas A&M Galveston and nesting responder for the TAMUG Sea Turtle Patrol.

When the Kemp's ridley sea turtle come to the Texas coast to nest, Iseton and dozens of other students and volunteers march down the beach looking for nests.

"This is all part of the bi-national recovery effort," said Iseton. "To make sure these eggs are well-cared for before they hatch."

The nests are sent off to Padre Island to be placed in incubators so the eggs are protected from predators and high-rising sea water. Those efforts are now just as endangered as the sea turtle.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is cutting funding to the Kemp's Ridley Bi-National Recovery Plan, a joint effort with Mexico to monitor the sea turtles.

This year the project's budget is getting cut in half to $50,000. They will receive no funding in 2015 and beyond.

Another setback is that the assessment of potential damage to Kemp's ridley as a result of the Deep Water Horizon spill, part of the National Resource Damage Assessment Program, was discontinued last year.

Both programs helped get trained researchers on the beach to protect the turtles and their eggs.

"That will be sad and a little bit disappointing to see that part of our effort gone," expressed Iseton.

The program's director, Dr. Kimberly Reich, said: "If the funding is not there to support research teams on the beach, the turtles, the nests and ultimately the hatchlings will be unprotected and uncounted."

With the budget cutbacks, researchers will be relying more on beach-goers.

If you happen to come across a nest or a turtle, don't disturb them. You have to have a permit to handle them. Instead you need to call 1-866-TURTLE-5.

Nesting season runs from April 1 to July 15 with patrols occurring Monday through Saturday.

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