Louisiana officials announced they discovered the hatchlings of the world’s smallest sea turtle species on an island just off the coast of New Orleans for the first time in 75 years.
Officials identified at least 53 sea turtle crawls (the unique paths turtles impress in the sand on their way to the sea) belonging to the endangered Kemp’s ridley turtle at the Breton National Wildlife Refuge on Louisiana’s Chandeleur Islands. Kemp’s ridley turtles only grow to be two feet in length, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
They observed two live hatchlings go into the water, the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority and 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 a habitat following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. Agencies have worked on restoring the island since.
“We were very excited to learn that sea turtles are once again using the Chandeleur Islands for nesting,” Leopoldo Miranda-Castro, a regional director with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said in the statement. “The discovery of sea turtles … is a huge step forward demonstrating the amazing resilience of fish and wildlife resources … and the importance of restoring these barrier islands to protect humans and nature.”
The tiny sea turtle species flourished in the Gulf of Mexico in the early 20th century, according to NOAA.
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But the population of nesting females had shrunk to the hundreds in the region by the 1980s, landing it on the endangered species list. The population spiked again in the 1990s and has fluctuated since 2010, according to the NOAA.
95% of Kemp’s ridley turtles nest off the coast of Mexico in the western gulf, according to the NOAA, making the Louisiana discovery especially significant.
“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,” Chip Kline, an official with the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, said in the statement.
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The Fish and Wildlife Service said loggerhead sea turtles, also listed under the Endangered Species Act, were discovered nesting on the island, too.