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World's Most Endangered Sea Turtle Nest Discovered Along U.S. Coastline for Only Ninth Time This Year


August 17, 2001

Kevin L. McIver, 251/441-5181, ext. 39
Tom MacKenzie, 404/679-7291

The discovery of the Continental United States ninth known nesting location of the endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle along Alabama's Gulf Coast was announced here today by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The smallest and most endangered of all sea turtles, this is only the second known Kemp's nest found along the Alabama Gulf Coast according to Celeste South, Endangered Species Recovery Coordinator.

First listed as an Endangered Species in 1970, the Kemp's only major breeding site is near Rancho Nuevo, Mexico. In 1978, an international experiment began with the intent to establish a nesting colony at Padre Island National Seashore in Texas. Since that time, some 10 to 15 mature females return to that site yearly to nest.

The fact that a Kemp's ridley has extended its nesting range to Alabama's Gulf Coast and has returned to nest is of the utmost significance.

"When a species has only one major breeding site, numerous land-based problems can cause the species to decline," South said. "The extension of it's nesting range is of critical importance to the survival and recovery of the species."

An estimated 26 hatchlings emerged during the early morning hours last month on July 27 at Gulf Shores' West End Beach. The hatchlings made the perilous dash from the nest to the safety of the Gulf's waters thanks to the diligent efforts of volunteers, as well as tourists from Nebraska and Tennessee.

"Most of the hatchlings made it to the water with a little help from members of the Sea Turtle Volunteer Program that was initiated by the Service this year for the Gulf Shores and Orange Beach areas," South said. "I want to thank Donna Ellis, Dennis Ellis, Maxine Gass and Barney Gass from Team Echo of Laguna Key, and C.J. Jarmon of Gulf State Park for their dedication which has really helped the cause of sea turtle conservation."

"If the nest had not been found, staked and watched by the volunteers and Gulf State Park staff, the hatchlings might have been lost due to misorientation or would have gone unnoticed," said South.

Sadly, one hatchling did not survive. Its remains were sent to the Padre Island Field Research Station, U.S. Geological Survey, in Texas, where it was positively identified as a Kemp's ridley sea turtle by Dr. Donna Shaver-Miller, station leader.

Unlike other sea turtles, Kemp's ridleys normally lay two to three nests which give Service biologists hope that more hatchlings will emerge along the Alabama Gulf Coast this year.

According to information from the National Marine Fisheries Service, there were an estimated 42,000 Kemp's ridley females nesting in 1947. By the 1980s the nesting population had dwindled to about 1,000 primarily due to human activities such as poaching.

In addition to the protection the Kemp's ridley receives under the Endangered Species Act, restoration and recovery efforts are a cooperative venture of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, Texas Parks and Wildlife, National Park Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Shell Oil Company, Unilever, and Mexico's National Fisheries Institute.

For more information on the Sea Turtle Volunteer Program for Alabama, please contact Celeste South at (251) 441-5181, ext. 32.

Additional information on the Kemp's ridley sea turtle can be found at: or with the U.S. Geological Survey at:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 94-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System which encompasses more than 535 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 70 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resource offices and 78 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Aid program that distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

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