Feds Cancel Ridley Turtle Head Start Program

dave moore svecp at Rosie.UH.EDU
Thu Jul 22 19:18:51 EST 1993


** I rewrote and condensed this account from a news article.  
** It is neither authoritative nor complete.  
** PLEASE, DO NOT flame Fish & Wildlife or Marine Fisheries just 
** on the basis of this posting.  

According to yesterday's Houston Chronicle, ("Feds chop head start 
for turtles; Imported hatchlings no longer allowed," 21Jul93, p13A, 
by Kevin Moran) the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service denied a 
permit to the National Marine Fisheries Service laboratory in 
Galveston for importing 2,000 Kemp's ridley sea turtle hatchlings.  
For 15 years, Marine Fisheries has raised the turtles until they were
"dinner plate sized," then released them at their nesting site in 
Mexico. The theory was that the larger turtles would have a better 
chance for survival.  Marine Fisheries has decided not to appeal.

The program involved waiting for the eggs to hatch, allowing the 
turtles to crawl into the surf, then netting them for transport to 
Galveston.  Supposedly, the turtles would be "imprinted" on the 
nesting site, so they would return there for nesting themselves. 
[As I understand it, only the females return to nest.  This is not
part of some general migration, like the swallows at Capistrano,
or Monarch butterflies. -- DJM]

To date, no released turtles have returned to the nesting site; nor
to Padre Island, where some turtles, raised from eggs, were released 
in order to establish a second nesting site.  (On the other hand, 
turtles don't mature for at least 10 years, and the program took a 
few years to work out some bugs, like hatching methods that produced 
mostly males.)

The permit was denied because "scientists from elsewhere who have 
studied the experimental program's results told the government it 
should be ended because there's no proof it has led to increased 
numbers of adult endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtles in the wild."  
The review panel felt the operation should be replaced by a study 
to determine the fate of the turtles released so far.  

By the way, about 1200 turtles a year nest at the Mexico beach, up 
from 700 in 1985.  (In the 1940's it was about 40,000.) Turtle 
excluders on shrimping nets are said to account for the increase.
Each turtle lays up to a hundred eggs.

----------------------------------------------------------------------
OK, so much for background.

Questions:

1.  My understanding of imprinting generally (say, in goslings) is 
    that it takes place only over a very brief time, a few days.  Is 
    there any reason to think that turtle imprinting needn't include 
    the swim into the deep sea as well just the surf?  These turtles 
    have been raised in buckets.  How would they learn anything at 
    all about navigating?  Is it too late for them to learn? Are 
    there any studies in other migratory species -- salmon, for 
    instance, or birds -- to support the basic premise of the program? 

2.  The new proposal is to determine the fate of the released turtles.
    Hasn't some effort along these lines been part of the program from the
    start?  If not, why not?  How would such a program work? 

3.  Can anyone who has participated in a tagging program on any
    species shed some light on the results so far?  About 22,000
    individuals have been released.  Were they all tagged?  Shouldn't 
    at least a few have turned up somewhere? 

4.  Scott Smullen, Marine Fisheries spokesman, says everyone agreed
    that "headstart was not a proven species recovery program," but
    that it was experimental and should continue for a few more years.  
    Are there any other programs like this to be used as bench marks?  
    Has the program in fact gone on long enough?  What indicators were 
    originally proposed to determine whether the program would 
    continue or not?  

5.  Why is Fish & Wildlife stepping in unilaterally?  Marine Fisheries 
    had funding, some of it (about $3,000/yr) collected from local 
    schools.  What's Fish & Wildlife's beef here?  The nesting turtle 
    population is increasing in spite of "losing" 2,000 hatchlings/year 
    to the program.  At least the program isn't hurting things too much.

6.  According to the article "Galveston scientists who run the program 
    were under orders Tuesday not to discuss the permit denial." 
    How will we hear their arguments if they can't talk about it?
    Is this standard procedure for canceled programs?  Does anyone
    know who gave those orders?

I'm not trying to attack anyone, just yet.  I'm looking for 
answers not blood.  Thanks for your patience in wading through a 
posting of this size.  

I will, of course, summarize and post answers E-mailed to me.
I'm cross posting to bionet.general and sci.environment, but post 
to sci.bio if you choose not to mail.
         "Real" name:  Dave Moore    --   InterNet Domain:  DJMoore at UH.EDU 
          Old BITNET:  DJMoore at UHOU  --  THEnet or DECnet:  UHOU::DJMoore
          ***  Hey, this is just silly old Dave talkin' here;  ***
          ***     don't blame UH for my confused ravings.      ***



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