Hunting News

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Rarest sea turtle nests found at CCAFS

by 1st Lt. Alicia Wallace
45th Space Wing Public Affairs

6/2/2015 - PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla -- The rarest and most endangered sea turtle in the world, the Kemp's ridley was discovered nesting on the beach of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., May 14 and again on May 28.

Angy Chambers, 45th Civil Engineer Squadron biological scientist, found the first nest on the beach during the morning sea turtle survey. Chambers and Martha Carroll, another biological scientist from the 45 CES, were the first ever to document a Kemp's ridley nest found at CCAFS. They marked and screened the nest and took photos and videos of the female sea turtle crawling up the beach, depositing her eggs and returning to the ocean.

"This is an amazing discovery, and we feel so privileged to be a part of it. We are making history here because there has never been a documented Kemp's ridley nest at CCAFS until now; and we were present to witness the entire nesting process. This species is critically endangered, and we could not think of a better place than CCAFS to help preserve it with our commitment to protecting endangered wildlife," said Chambers.

The Kemp's ridley, scientific name Lepidochelys kempii, nest in Florida in very small numbers; only seven Kemp's ridley nests were documented in Florida in 2014, according to Carroll. Their primary nesting habitat is on the Gulf coast of Mexico. Young Kemp's ridley sea turtles are found in tropical and temperate coastal areas of the northwest Atlantic Ocean and can be found up and down the east coast of the United States, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Kemp's ridley sea turtles are smaller than the Cape's typical nesting sea turtles, weighing 85 to 100 pounds and measuring 2 to 2.5 feet in carapace (upper shell) length, but they are tough and tenacious, according to Carroll. Their principal diet consists of crabs and other crustaceans.

The greatest threat to the Kemp's ridley, according to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, is from human activities, which includes the collection of eggs and hunting for meat and other products. The significant decline in the number of Kemp's ridley's can be attributed to high levels of incidental take by shrimp trawlers in the past.

During a subsequent sea turtle survey May 28, Chambers and Carroll witnessed the same sea turtle nesting again on the beach of CCAFS.

"I couldn't believe the first time we saw the Kemp's ridley nesting here at the Cape. And then when we witnessed her nesting on the beach again, I was absolutely astounded!" said Carroll. "The timing was unbelievable! I feel so privileged to be one of the only ones to witness this beautiful and endangered creature returning to her natal beach and nesting."

Following the 50-60 day incubation period, the 45 CES biological scientists will report on the success of the Kemp's ridley hatchlings.

In addition to the two Kemp's ridley nests, this sea turtle nesting season as of May 28, CCAFS has a total of 572 loggerhead sea turtle nests, one green nest and three leatherback nests; Patrick Air Force Base has a total of 152 loggerhead nests.

The loggerhead sea turtle is the most common nester at CCAFS and PAFB with an average total of more than 3000 nests per year combined for both bases.

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