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Sea turtles stall seaweed cleanup in Galveston

by Alice Barr / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on June 13, 2014 at 6:39 PM

GALVESTON, Texas -- The beaches of Galveston can get pretty packed this time of year, but there’s a different kind of visitor joining the crowds right now: the green sea turtle.

“It’s definitely neat to see them just because they’re such unique, beautiful animals,” said Andy Krauss, a NOAA-affiliate research assistant at Galveston’s NOAA Sea Turtle Facility.

But Krauss says we shouldn’t be seeing them at such a small size and young age, at least not so many.

“This year we have a lot more greens coming in with the sargassum,” said Krauss.

That’s that seaweed you’ve been seeing all over the Galveston shore. It’s a nuisance to folks trying to enjoy the beach, but to the green sea turtle, it’s home.

“They’ll basically feed on all the algae, the crabs and shrimps and other creatures that live in the sargassum, so that’s basically a big raft, a floating ecosystem,” said Krauss.

They catch a ride way out at sea, but more seaweed washing up this season means more turtles coming with it, and they’re too small to turn back around.

“They’re at risk,” said Krauss. “They’re not quite as strong swimmers.”

So the Sea Turtle Facility ships the young ones to nearby aquariums to grow, they can get up to six feet long, then puts them back in the ocean.

Staff at the facility check the beaches for them every week, and answer calls from people who spot turtles washed up.

“Either if it’s nesting, or it’s washed in, or if they think there might be something wrong, they can call us,” said Krauss.

The greens are endangered so only experts can touch them.

The center is even getting calls from the crews clearing seaweed off the beaches, who tell KHOU 11 News they check for turtles before rolling their equipment through.

The number to call is 1-866-TURTLE5.

While you’ll see more green sea turtles this season on Galveston Island, there are fewer of another sea turtle so far. The Kemp’s Ridley is not nesting as early as usual. But Krauss tells KHOU 11 News that’s because the weather stayed cooler through the early part of the season.

He says the only difference that nesting later in the summer could cause is there may be more female turtles hatching, because the temperature affects the turtles’ gender. If there are more eggs laid in hot late summer months, and fewer in the earlier months, that could mean more girl than boy Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles coming to the shores.

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