Perhaps you saw today's New York Times story on the toll the Gulf oil spill is taking on the world's most endangered sea turtle, a species called the Kemp's ridley. The only breeding ground for the Kemp's ridley, of which only about 1,000 nesting females survive, is in the Gulf. Most of the 156 sea-turtle deaths federal wildlife officials have recorded in the Gulf since the oil-spill have been Kemp's ridleys.
I had never heard of the Kemp's ridley until about six weeks ago. Pamelia and I were choosing endangered-species stuffed-animal toys to sell at The Naturalist's Notebook. The Kemp's ridley caught my eye. I was curious about the odd name: Kemp turns out to be Richard M. Kemp, a fisherman in Florida who found the first specimen for scientific study. No one is clear where "ridley" comes from or what it means, though it is also used in the name of a closely related species, the Olive ridley.
The more I read, the more I felt we had to display Kemp's ridleys and their story at the Notebook. Kemp's ridleys are the smallest of sea turtles (only two feet long) and they can range from Mexico as far north as Nova Scotia—meaning some of them must swim past our shop in Seal Harbor, Maine. Until mankind came along, they were remarkable survivors. They've been around since at least the age of the dinosaurs, which lasted from roughly 230 million years ago to 65 million years ago. They survived the catastrophic event that wiped the dinosaurs out (possibly a giant meteor strike) as well as subsequent ice ages.
But, though we rarely acknowledge it, humans can be more destructive to wildlife than any other force on Earth. Over the years we have collected and eaten Kemp's ridley sea turtle eggs (at least that's now illegal), built on their nesting beaches, snagged them in our shrimp-trawling nets and drift nets and fishing lines, polluted their waters and run into them with our recreational boats. Sea turtles of many types, presumably including Kemp's ridleys, have choked to death on pieces of balloons and other human trash.
The full environmental damage caused by the Deepwater Horizon accident won't be known for decades, but it will be a tragedy if the only Kemp's ridley sea turtles around in a few years are aquarium specimens and the plush-toy models for sale at The Naturalist's Notebook.
Quote to Ponder...
"When I hear of the destruction of a species I feel just as if all the works of some great writer had perished." —Theodore Roosevelt