"This has never happened in modern times."
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Kemps Ridley Sea Turtle Nest Magnolia Beach
Credit: Emilee DeForest/Texas A&M AgriLife Extension

And they're off!

Scientists and local officials are celebrating a major "conservation success" that played out on the shores of the Magnolia Beach in Calhoun County, Texas, this week.

A nest containing approximately 45 critically endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle eggs was discovered mid-hatch on Monday, allowing experts to assist them on their perilous journey to the water. It's the first time in recorded history that a sea turtle has nested on Magnolia Beach, let along the precious Kemp's ridley.

"This has never happened in modern times," Dr. Pamela Plotkin, sea turtle biologist and director of Texas Sea Grant, said in a statement. "Sea turtles typically nest on barrier island beaches in Texas and so seeing a turtle nest on a beach inside any bay is rare. There are many miles of unpopulated bay shoreline along Texas' coast, so it is possible that sea turtle nesting on these shores is more frequent and undetected."

The turtles were found by maintenance workers who were picking up trash on the beach. According to a news release, Zach Padron and Jason Gonzalez spotted approximately 25 hatching turtles heading the wrong way.

"I thought, 'We better help them because it's a good ways to the water!'" Padron recalled.

The men notified Calhoun County Marine Extension Agent RJ Shelly who began excavating the turtle nest as soon as he arrived. Shelly found approximately 20 more sea turtles that needed help emerging from the nest.

Because the nest was within 10 feet of a roadway, Shelly and others closely supervised the hatching process, and watched all of them float away into Matagorda Bay.

A similar story unfolded at Galveston Island State Park last month, when the park recorded its first Kemp's ridley nest in a decade.

The Kemp's ridley, the official state sea turtle of Texas, primarily nests on the Texas Gulf Coast. Efforts to boost their population have achieved mixed results, though this year is shaping up to be a banner one for the species.  

Typical nesting season for the Kemp's ridley sea turtle runs between April 1 and July 15. People who find a nest are urged to call the Sea Turtle hotline at 1-866-TURTLE-5 and stay at least 60 feet away.