Endangered sea turtles, the smallest in the world, rediscovered in Louisiana

Louisiana officials have announced that they have discovered the hatchlings of the world’s smallest species of sea turtle on an island just off New Orleans for the first time in 75 years.

Officials have identified at least 53 sea turtle ramps (the unique paths that turtles imprint in the sand on their way to the sea) belonging to the endangered Kemp’s Ridley turtle at the Breton National Wildlife Refuge on the Chandeleur Islands in Louisiana. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Kemp’s Ridley turtles are only two feet long.

They observed two live hatchlings enter the water, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said in a news release.

Officials said the discovery of the turtles marked a positive sign for the island chain, which was decimated as habitat following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Agencies have been working to restore the the island since.

“We were very pleased to learn that sea turtles are once again using the Candlemas Islands for nesting,” Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, regional director for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said in the statement. “The discovery of sea turtles…is a huge step forward that demonstrates the incredible resilience of fish and wildlife resources…and the importance of restoring these barrier islands to protect people and nature.”

According to NOAA, the tiny species of sea turtle thrived in the Gulf of Mexico in the early 20th century.

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But the population of breeding females had dwindled to hundreds in the area by the 1980s, putting it on the endangered species list. The population increased again in the 1990s and has fluctuated since 2010, according to NOAA.

According to NOAA, 95% of Kemp’s tortoises nest off the coast of Mexico in the Western Gulf, making the Louisiana discovery particularly significant.

“Louisiana was widely considered a nesting ground for sea turtles decades ago, but this determination shows why restoring barrier islands is so important,” said Chip Kline, an official with Louisiana Coastal Protection. and Restoration Authority, in the press release.

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The Fish and Wildlife Service said loggerhead sea turtles, also listed under the Endangered Species Act, have also been found nesting on the island.

USA Today

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