By Andrew C. Revkin
UPDATED, 8:00 a.m.: For the first time since the 1930’s, federal biologists confirmed that a leatherback sea turtle has nested on a Texas beach, at the Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi.
Last Friday, staff conducting a beach patrol found turtle tracks and a few exposed eggs. They were thought at first to be those of a green turtle. But the eggs and the width of the tracks, more than six feet across, were later determined by a park biologist, Cynthia Rubio, to be from a leatherback. The giant, ancient, endangered turtles, some the size of a Smart Car, have until now only been known to nest in four spots in the United States – with about three dozen females a year laying eggs on beaches along the east coast of Florida and slightly larger nesting populations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. There is evidence of nesting in North Carolina as well.
An e-mail message circulating around the community of sea turtle conservationists came my way today and staff at Padre Island confirmed the details.
Wednesday also saw a champion in the “Great Turtle Race,” in which students and turtle fans tracked the meanderings of 11 radio-tagged leatherbacks in the Pacific Ocean. The first to reach the International Date Line was a turtle named Saphira II, sponsored by the Bullis Charter School of Los Altos, Calif.