A myriad of organizations working to save the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle recognized Texas Parks and Wildlife Department employees for playing key roles in helping to recover the turtle, which nests only in Texas and Mexico.
“The Kemp’s Ridley still the most critically endangered sea turtle in the world, but we’re moving in the right direction,” said Patrick Burchfield, Ph.D., director of the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, and a lead coordinator for the bi-national turtle recovery effort involving Texas and Mexico.
“In 1985, only 702 Ridley turtles came to nest on beaches at Rancho Nuevo in Mexico. Last year, at our six bi-national turtle camps in Mexico we had about 6,000 nesting turtles return. And in our state, a record 128 Kemp’s Ridley nests were found on Texas beaches. This could not have happened without the hard work of many people, including four Texas Parks and Wildlife employees who have consistently championed funding and support for this cause for many years.”
At the TPW Commission meeting March 27, Burchfield and several partners took turns recognizing the four TPWD employees. Several awards were presented from commercial shrimping organizations. A little history explains why shrimpers are applauding the Ridley’s recovery.
Shrimpers had been blamed as one reason for the turtle’s decline, and in the 1990s they were required to start using Turtle Excluder devices, essentially holes in shrimp trawls (nets) that allow sea turtles to escape and avoid drowning.
In 1995, Burchfield took an olive branch to the industry, going to speak at a Texas shrimp industry meeting. His talk intrigued Les Hodgson, co-owner of Marco Sales, a Brownsville shrimp wholesaler. Hodgson and others began a crusade to involve shrimp fishermen in the Ridley recovery.
Shrimpers in Texas and elsewhere in U.S. got behind the project, including Wild American Shrimp, the marketing arm of the organization that represents shrimpers in eight southern U.S. states along the Gulf and the Atlantic. They approached their Mexican counterparts with the organization CANAINPES. Together the groups built facilities and provided all terrain vehicles for scientists and volunteers patrolling Mexican beaches for nesting sea turtles.
At the March 27 meeting, Les’ brother Larry Hodgson, representing Ocean Trust, an education and research foundation connected with the fishing industry, recognized Larry McKinney, Ph.D., TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division director.
Les Hodgson, representing Wild American Shrimp, then recognized Scott Boruff, TPWD deputy executive director for operations, calling him one of the “Ridley rangers.”
Harley Londrie, Texas Shrimp Association vice president, then recognized Mike Ray, TPWD Coastal Fisheries Division deputy director, who has handled most of the details and logistics for the agency’s sea turtle conservation efforts for many years.
Burchfield, representing the zoo and bi-national partners, concluded the presentation with an award to Gene McCarty, TPWD deputy executive director for administration.
Burchfield concluded the awards presentation by urging continued conservation action.
“We stand now on the brink of recovery for the Kemp’s Ridley,” Burchfield said. “We’re on the way back, but we’re in the fourth quarter on the one yard line. We must keep the ball in play.”
More information about the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle is on the TPWD Web site.