A record number of sea turtles are stranded along the Texas coastline at the height of sea turtle nesting season, a marine wildlife advocacy group says.
A total of 159 stranded sea turtles were recorded in April — the highest number of strandings in one month since monitoring began in 1980, according to Turtle Island Restoration Network. Strandings have continued at a rapid pace, with 186 turtles stranded through May 21. Most of the turtles were dead when they were discovered.
Among the dead were 68 Kemp's ridley sea turtles, the Texas state sea turtle and the world's most endangered sea turtle, the group said.
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A stranded sea turtle is one found alive on land, or in the water that is dead, injured or exhibits any indication of ill health or abnormal behavior. According to Turtle Island Restoration Network, it is often difficult to determine why a turtle become stranded. In some cases, turtles have interacted with fishing vessels and are found with gill net wrapped around their flippers.
"We know turtles are drowning in illegal longline and gillnet fishing operations along the United States-Mexico border in southern Texas," Turtle Island Restoration Network Gulf Program Director Joanie Steinhaus said. "We need government agencies on both sides of the border to make this a priority. The reasons for stranding may be different in other areas like along the upper Texas coast, but the numbers are still alarming."
According to Turtle Island Restoration Network, shrimp trawling is one of the primary threats to sea turtle survival in the United States, including the Gulf of Mexico. Every year, the shrimp trawl fishery captures and kills thousands of sea turtles, including the critically endangered Kemp's ridley. Migration of the Kemp's ridleys in the shallow waters of the Gulf Coast coincides each year with shrimp fishing.
"Better law enforcement by both state and federal agencies is only part of the answer," Steinhaus said. "Another simple step that would save thousands of ridleys would be closing shrimping in state waters during the nesting season."
Turtle Island Restoration Network reminds beachgoers to report injured or stranded animals on the Texas coast, by calling the following phone numbers:
• Injured or stranded sea turtles: 866-TURTLE-5
• Deceased fish and bird: 512-389-4848
• Stranded marine mammals: 1-800-962-6625