Sea Turtle Program Under Attack in Texas
Sea Turtle Program Under Attack in Texas
There is something terrible going on at Padre Island National Seashore. The brand new superintendent of Padre Island National Seashore, a man who is not a scientist, has endorsed a Review that will gut and defund the Kemp's ridley sea turtle program run by Dr. Donna Shaver, a celebrated scientist. (Read the review, not the soothing and misleading paragraph the National Park Service uses to introduce it.)
Unless the public speaks out now and demands this Review be withdrawn, the successful program that protects the Kemp's ridley sea turtle will be a remnant of what it is now. The two primary nesting locations for this most endangered of sea turtles are Padre Island National Seashore and a beach in Mexico. Reducing this program in Texas will reduce the Kemp's ridley population and put the entire species at even higher risk of extinction.
Dr. Shaver was not invited to contribute to or even read the Review which will decimate the sea turtle program at Padre Island National Seashore. She is the foremost authority on the Kemp's ridley turtle and it is her sea turtle program. Instead, she was preemptively placed under a gag order not to comment before the Review was ever released. She may not be able to comment, but her whistle blower complaint says plenty. Dr. Shaver, who is celebrated worldwide, is sacrificing her career in an an effort to save these sea turtles.
Here are a few of the damaging changes requested in the Review.
Superintendent Eric Brunnemann & Regional Director Mike Reynolds want a 30% reduction in funding for the sea turtle program. They have already effected an almost 30% reduction by turning back ALL grant money, so this would be an additional 30% reduction.
They want to cut back the popular public hatchling release program which showcases Dr. Shaver's & others' work saving the Kemp's ridley sea turtle and which brings in approximately one million dollars in annual tourist revenue to Corpus Christi, Texas.
Although all sea turtles are endangered, the superintendent and regional director want all work to save other species of sea turtles at the park prohibited. If sea turtle eggs are not collected and protected at the Padre Island National Seashore, there is a 100% chance they will be destroyed. This ruling means any green sea turtle eggs or loggerhead sea turtle eggs laid at the beach will be left to be destroyed by vehicles, fire ants, or coyotes. Any cold-stunned or injured green or loggerhead turtles must be left in place, likely to die of predation or injury. After years of helping sea turtles, volunteers and scientists are being ordered to turn their backs and ignore them. (Contrary to media stories celebrating the rescue of cold stunned turtles in 2021 during the Texas Big Freeze, most of the cold stunned turtles died at the park because of inaction by the Superintendent.)
Even though public comment was legally required for this Review, no public comment was requested or allowed. As you see, they even gagged the top scientist! This petition is our attempt to redress that and make a public comment.
Members of the public fish, camp, and go birding at this national park. You have to drive on the beach for all of these activities. The proposed changes would either prohibit driving April 1 - July 15, or, at a minimum, require an additional permit fee on top of the park entrance fee. These proposals are in the report and acknowledge the state must be consulted. They are the argument for defunding the sea turtle program. The argument is wrong, but the argument is you can defund the program because there will be no driving on the beach.
We believe in following the money to determine the reason behind this incomprehensible and destructive proposal. It appears the National Park Service would like to ban all traffic on the beach, ending camping and recreational fishing. They would then erroneously tell the public that nests on the beach are now safe, so they can reclaim the funds that were specifically granted for the turtle program and use those funds for other purposes. In fact, any nests left on the beach would not be safe. 100% would be predated by coyotes, fire ants, or other wildlife. Vehicles are only one of the threats to turtle nests. Banning traffic and dismantling the turtle program ends birding, fishing, and camping, as well as destroying endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles.
However, under the original agreement between the state of Texas and the U.S. Government, if traffic is prohibited on the beach, the park will revert to the state. It may be that the National Park Service does not think Texas will try to reclaim the park land or perhaps the National Park Service no longer wants this park. In any event, if the park reverted to the state, it might no longer be a park, but might be developed.
A way of life on Padre Island National Seashore is being threatened, not only for turtles, but also for tourists and residents. The sea turtles which nest at Padre Island National Seashore don't belong to the park or to Texas. They are protected by the National Park Service which should be stewards for them. In this case, the stewardship has failed, so contact your Senators and Representatives and object to this travesty.
Not surprisingly, the final insult of the Review is this: "research activities be removed from the Chief of the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery and be placed under the direct control of a nonscientist, the park superintendent." That is right, take the scientific program away from control by scientists and give it to a career park employee who is an administrator, not a scientist.
We demand this Review be withdrawn and any future Reviews be a collaboration with park scientists, as well as management, and that future Reviews be released for public comment, as is required by law.
Going forward, we must amend the Padre Island National Seashore enabling legislation to include sea turtles, so future superintendents will be under a mandate to protect the program.
In addition to signing this petition, it is vital that Secretary Deb Haaland be made aware of what is happening at Padre Island National Seashore. This is a small park that does not get much attention from the Department of Interior. The change in administration will have no effect on what is happening to the turtles, unless Secretary Haaland learns of this destruction to the Kemp's ridley sea turtle program.
You may email Secretary Haaland, email@example.com, but it is even more effective to write a letter. If ever you take pen to paper to help with a critical environmental issue, this is the time to do it.
U.S. Department of Interior
1849 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20240