Padre Island National Seashore’s First Public Turtle Hatchling Release in 2 Years
Future public viewings of sea turtle hatchlings threatened by National Park Service budget cuts
Public viewings of Kemp’s ridley sea turtle hatchling releases are back! The first public releases in two years are scheduled at the Malaquite Visitor Center at Padre Island National Seashore on July 23-24 and Aug. 4-6.
The National Park Service canceled hatchling releases on July 10-11, possibly due to the rainy weather. No releases were held in 2020 because of COVID-19 concerns.
Public releases are also under scrutiny and could be canceled in the future due to budget concerns. The program has been cut back and large grants returned at the direction of Superintendent Eric Brunneman, who came to the park in March 2020. In the past, hatchling releases occurred more frequently, with several dozen events staged over the hatch season of mid-June through August. A review of the 40-year program done in June 2020 stated that the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery was headed for budget shortfalls in the next three to five years. Program chief and internationally recognized turtle expert Dr. Donna Shaver, who has been with the NPS program throughout those years, was not included in the review process. Changes to the program included a budget cut of 30 percent from $2 million and eliminated “short-term project funding,” such as grants, for long-term operational costs. Shaver had secured about $700,000 in grant money for the budget. Other changes that could harm turtle populations include cutting staff time by limiting the number of public hatchling release events and reducing the number of beach patrols to spot laying turtles.
The mother turtle typically buries herself in the sand, lays the eggs, and then swims out to sea, leaving eggs exposed to predators and beach traffic. Beach patrols spot the nests and take the eggs to Padre Island National Seashore, where they are incubated and released when hatched.
After the report was released, Shaver filed a complaint with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a Maryland-based environmental nonprofit.
In addition, a petition has been filed by Padre Island resident Marilyn Litt opposing enacting recommendations from the report. Litt secured nearly 26,000 signatures in support of the turtle program at the national seashore.
The program to protect this endangered species of sea turtles began in 1978 to protect the most endangered sea turtle in the United States.
IF YOU GO
The hatchling release events begin at 6:45 a.m., but visitors are encouraged to arrive by 6:30 a.m. to get the best view and allow time to purchase a $10 park pass at the gate. Passes are also available in advance online.
Viewers are asked not to use flash photography on their camera or phone or to use any bright lights as this disorients the hatchlings. Other recommendations include not wearing white, which turtles can take to be the sun, and to wear shoes that can get wet if the water reaches the staging area. Small children and dogs are allowed to attend. Dogs must be leashed. No one is allowed to touch the turtles.
Releases can be canceled at the last minute, so be sure to call the Hatchling Hotline at 361-949-7163 or check the seashore’s Facebook page for the latest information.
Anyone who comes across a nesting sea turtle on the beach should notify the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at 361-949-8173 ext 226.
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