By Gaige Davila
As sea turtles return to their nesting sites on South Padre Island, Sea Turtle Inc. is warning drivers to slow down, after a 70lb Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle was run over by a truck this past Sunday.
Around 2:30 p.m. on May 16, a Sea Turtle Inc. staff member was patrolling a county beach between mile marker 12 and 13 for nesting sea turtles when he spotted a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle come out of the water and in to the dunes to nest. As the staff member made their way to the top of the dunes for better cell phone service to call for assistance, a dark-colored truck sped down the beach and ran over the back end of the turtle in front of horrified beach goers. The truck continued down the beach and the owner has not yet been identified.
The staff member rendered aid to the turtle immediately, with Sea Turtle Inc’s rehabilitation team responding shortly afterwards. The turtle, which survived, laid one egg before being struck. Sea Turtle Inc. named the lone egg “Nemo,” like the character in the eponymous Pixar film. Nemo is held in Sea Turtle Inc’s nesting corral in a private location in the sand dunes. Sea Turtle Inc. will know within six weeks whether Nemo will survive.
The injured female sea turtle, who was named “Tiny Dancer,” was held at Sea Turtle Inc. for three days, receiving surgery to reconnect the broken portions of her shell. Tiny Dancer’s internal organs and spine were undamaged, and her hundreds of unhatched eggs, according to her x-rays, seemed okay, too.
Sea Turtle Inc. returned Tiny Dancer to the beach on Tuesday, where she hesitated between laying the rest of her eggs and returning to the water. She ultimately chose the latter, disappearing into the waves.
Tiny Dancer has a tag, but does not have a satellite tracking device. She could return to the beach any day to lay the rest of her eggs. Or she could drop them into the gulf where they will die. She could also return to the beach later with a new clutch of eggs. Sea Turtle Inc. Director Wendy Knight hopes she will return, as Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are the smallest and most endangered of sea turtle species in the world. Texas is the only state in the U.S. that has Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle nests.
“It is a privilege that we’re allowed to drive on the beach in the first place, and that we allow it to happen during nesting season is an even bigger privilege,” Knight told the PRESS from her office at Sea Turtle Inc. “We just need people to take better care, to be more attentive.”
Sea turtles hit by cars, especially while trying to lay eggs, is a rare occurrence, with the most recent example happening in Florida, where a loggerhead sea turtle was killed by a car after laying 70 eggs last week. Tiny Dancer’s incident is being studied by Dr. Amy Bonka, Sea Turtle Inc’s Chief Conservation Officer, due to her behavior when being returned to the place she was trying to nest.
“The times where something tragic like this has happened, literally in the middle of laying eggs, is just such a far reaching extreme,” Knight said. “She was fighting against her natural instinct. She knew that she had eggs and that she needed to lay eggs and nest, and then she also knew that something was wrong and she was unsafe and needed to be in the water.”
Sea turtle nesting season runs from April to August. It is a federal crime to harass or injure a sea turtle. If you have any information about who hit Tiny Dancer or see a nesting sea turtle, contact Sea Turtle Inc. at (956) 243-4361.