Galveston seaweed raises more turtle concerns

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Associated Press

Posted on June 29, 2014 at 8:32 AM

GALVESTON, Texas (AP) — Removal of larger-than-normal amounts of seaweed from beaches could affect Kemp's ridley sea turtles because their nests face being disturbed and trapped, experts say.

Kimberly Reich, director of the Sea Turtle Research Lab at Texas A&M University, believes all that seaweed is making it tough to spot the endangered turtles or their nests, the Houston Chronicle (http://bit.ly/1sMkoWm) reported Friday.

"I still think we are losing turtles and I still think we are having nests covered up because of the sheer mass they are having to clear," Reich said.

Officials blame the seaweed on an unusually large influx of the marine algae since April. The seaweed, being removed by private contractors, comes during the winding down of turtle nesting season on the beaches.

Despite extraordinary efforts to avoid harming the turtles, the volume of seaweed may be so great in places that it's too difficult to spot turtles or their nests, Reich said.

The Galveston Park Board has hired six trained turtle monitors to walk in front of beach cleaning machinery when operating to ensure the safety of turtles and nests. The board also asked for assistance from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which has responsibility for turtles after they reach land, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has enforcement authority.

"The district is working with federal and non-federal partners to evaluate the conditions and identify a way forward that would enable the removal or repositioning of the seaweed while minimizing risks to the environment and habitat in accordance with federal laws," said Alicia Rea, project manager for the Compliance Branch for the Corps' Galveston District.

The largest operator on Galveston island, Hernan Botero, owner of Great Expectations beach cleaning service, said he and his wife are trained turtle monitors and that he goes ahead of the cleaning equipment on an all-terrain vehicle to look for turtles and nests. The company also uses environmentally friendly seaweed rakes pulled by a tractor, he said.

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com

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