NEW ORLEANS — Hatchlings of the world’s smallest and most endangered sea turtles were observed off the Louisiana coast for the first time in 75 years, marine officials said.
According to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the hatchlings of the Kemp’s ridley turtles were found on the Chandeleur Islands in the Gulf of Mexico about 50 miles east of New Orleans, WAFB-TV reported.
“Louisiana was largely written off as a nesting spot for sea turtles decades ago, but this determination demonstrates why barrier island restoration is so important,” CRPA Chairman Chip Kline said in a statement. “As we develop and implement projects statewide, we are always keeping in mind what’s needed to preserve our communities and enhance wildlife habitat. Having this knowledge now allows us to make sure these turtles and other wildlife return to our shores year after year.”
Crews monitoring the Chandeleur Islands found tracks of female turtles going to and from nests, and hatchlings leaving a nest, according to The Associated Press.
So far, more than 53 sea turtle crawls have been documented and two live hatchlings have been observed making their way to the water, the CPRA said in its news release.
The first tracks were found by a crew surveying birds “before the sea turtle nesting season really kicked off,” Matthew Weigel, coastal resources scientist manager for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, told the AP.
Weigel said he and Todd Baker of the restoration agency stumbled across hatchling tracks on the beach.
“There was some high-fiving going on,” Weigel told the AP.
The men followed the tracks back to a nest they had not seen before and discovered two newly emerged turtles, which they followed back to the beach.
“We were very excited to learn that sea turtles are once again using the Chandeleur Islands for nesting,” Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in a statement. “We’ve worked hard with our partners to restore wildlife and habitat in the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill through planning and implementing numerous projects, including on the Chandeleur Islands.
“The discovery of sea turtles nesting and successfully hatching is a huge step forward demonstrating the amazing resilience of fish and wildlife resources, including threatened and endangered species, and the importance of restoring these barrier islands to protect humans and nature.”
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