Sea turtles in harm’s way in Gulf



LOS ANGELES — Federal scientists have mapped the migration patterns and feeding grounds of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle in the Gulf of Mexico, and the study reveals that the favored feeding sites for the endangered turtles overlap with the most damaged areas of the Gulf.

National Park Service and the U.S. Geological Survey researchers found that the small turtles predominantly forage in waters where there is extensive commercial fishing, frequent oil spills and a well-known oxygen depletion zone.

Scientists analyzed 13 years of satellite-tracking data from tagged female turtles as they left Padre Island National Seashore in Corpus Christi, Texas, and followed their foraging patterns in the Gulf.

Previous tracking studies generally showed Kemp’s ridley migration from nesting beaches along the Gulf coastline to northern Texas and Louisiana, with some turtles migrating as far as peninsular Florida. But the new study connected the animals’ movement to foraging behavior and migration patterns.

The Kemp’s ridley is considered the most endangered and smallest hard-shelled sea turtle, with adults reaching about 2 feet long and weighing up to 100 pounds. The number of Kemp’s ridleys nesting in the region has increased from 702 nests in 1985 to about 22,000 in 2012.