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Nearly 100 Endangered Sea Turtle Hatchlings Released Off Texas Coast

Jun 18, 2014 11:18 AM EDT

Nearly 100 endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle hatchlings were released Monday on a South Texas beach so that they could make their way into the Gulf of Mexico.

Several hundred observers at Padre Island National Seashore watched the 98 turtle hatchlings head for the water, the first release of the season, according to the Associated Press (AP).

Experts have found 96 nests of Kemp's ridley sea turtles on the Texas coast this year, 61 of them discovered at Padre Island National Seashore near Corpus Christi. Donna Shaver with the National Park Service, who's chief of the division of sea turtle science and recovery, says that the next batch of turtles will be released in Texas in late June or early July.

Padre Island National Seashore is just one of many global efforts to help recover endangered species populations, Kemp's ridley sea turtles among them. Other threatened sea turtle species include the leatherback, hawksbill, green and loggerhead, all found in the Gulf of Mexico, the National Parks Service reports.

The National Seashore is a critical habitat for these marine animals because it is the only place in Texas where all five can be found. They are also common along Louisiana and Florida coasts.

These magnificent creatures were once abundant, but within the last century their numbers have dwindled. According to the NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, in 1947 about 40,000 Kemp's ridley sea turtle nests were documented in Mexico, but as of 2003 there were only 7,000.

"Human development on turtle nesting beaches, harvesting of the eggs, slaughtering for food and consumer products, and incidental capturing by fisheries are to blame for dwindling turtle populations," writes the National Parks Service.

This year the number of nests laid by the Kemp's ridley sea turtle on the upper Texas Gulf Coast is fairly low, and is raising concerns that this endangered species is heading towards extinction.

"We are going to reserve making conclusions until the nesting season is over, but it is currently a low year-to-date tally," Shaver told the AP.

The species, with the help of recovery programs like that at Padre National Seashore, shows signs of recovery, but there is still an uphill climb.

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