Earth’s rarest sea turtle lays eggs, “has never happened in modern times”

The world’s rarest sea turtle recently surprised scientists by laying eggs on a Texas beach.

Approximately 45 Kemp’s ridley sea turtle eggs were discovered on Magnolia Beach in Calhoun County, Texas, earlier this month, according to Texas Sea Grant. The species is the smallest and rarest of all sea turtle types. Sea turtle biologist Dr. Pamela Plotkin, the director of Texas Sea Grant, said that the rare find may suggest that there are additional “undetected” nestings along the Texas Gulf coast.

“This has never happened in modern times,” Plotkin said in a statement released by The College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University. “Sea turtles typically nest on barrier island beaches in Texas and so seeing a turtle nest on a beach inside any bay is rare. There are many miles of unpopulated bay shoreline along Texas’ coast, so it is possible that sea turtle nesting on these shores is more frequent and undetected.”

The discovery was described as a “conservation success” in the Texas A&M release, which also noted that the eggs had already hatched and the turtles successfully made their way into the water.

Sea Turtle Eggs Discovered Rare Texas Beach
Around 45 rare Kemp’s ridley sea turtle eggs were recently discovered on a Texas beach. A single Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is pictured in Costa Rica on December 10, 2007.

“For sea turtles, the period after hatching is a fight for survival,” the release continued. “In their first moments of life hatchlings must quickly race from their nests in the sand to the water, avoiding predators, poaching, pollution, and other hazards.”

Although the Magnolia Beach hatchlings succeeded in reaching the water, the were helped along the way. The turtles were first discovered by Calhoun County Precinct 1 Commissioner’s Office maintenance workers Zach Padron and Jason Gonzalez, according to the release.

The maintenance workers noticed that around 25 hatchlings were marching away from the water. Padron said that nature television programs helped him remember that the turtles, who were “a good ways to the water,” could be in danger due to predators.

After the turtles were helped to the water, Texas Sea Grant’s Calhoun County Marine Extension Agent R.J. Shelly was notified, according to the release. Shelly visited the beach and suspected that more of the turtles could be nearby.

“Sure enough, once we started excavating, we saw more and more dig their way out,” Shelly said. “We let them imprint on the sand and then stood there while they made their run.”

As the turtles were located only 10 feet from a road, Shelly and others stayed nearby to make sure that the turtles made their way to the water safely.

The discovery of the turtles on Magnolia Beach coincidentally happened during international Sea Turtle Week, according to the release, which happens annually from June 8 to June 16.

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles, which are an endangered species and the official state sea turtle of Texas, are primarily found in the Gulf of Mexico but can also be found in the Atlantic Ocean as far north as Nova Scotia, Canada, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The population of the species hit a record low in 1985, when there were believed to be fewer than 250 nesting females, but has since rebounded due to conservation efforts.

Newsweek reached out to the International Sea Turtle Society for comment.

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