Podcast: Sea Turtles of the Upper Texas Coast

More of a visual learner? Read the transcript of this week's Galveston Unscripted podcast episode below:

Tune in every Friday for a brand new episode of the Galveston Unscripted podcast.

Every year, from April to July, it's possible to see some remarkable creatures grace Galveston's beaches. Imagine seeing a majestic sea turtle emerging from the waves determined to make its way up the shore to lay its eggs. Sea turtles are a significant part of the Texas coastal ecosystem. Let's look into three incredible sea turtle species that call the Texas coast home: the loggerhead, the green sea turtle, and the Kemp's ridley sea turtle.

While you're more likely to see one poking its nose out of the water to breathe, sea turtles also visit the Galveston beaches to nest and lay eggs between April and July of every year. Female sea turtles come ashore multiple times to lay several batches of around 100 eggs per nest.

Some of these turtles travel thousands of miles across the ocean to lay their eggs in the same place they hatched years ago. Three species of sea turtles might be seen along the Texas coast. The most common is the loggerhead sea turtle, which can live 70 years or more. These turtles are usually two and a half to three feet long and weigh between 200 and 350 pounds. Loggerhead sea turtles are mainly carnivores, and they use their powerful jaws to crush crabs and mollusks.

The largest and heaviest of the three is the green sea turtle, coming in at three to four feet long and weighing a whopping 300 to 400 pounds. While not as common as loggerheads, green sea turtles also visit Texas beaches to nest. Green sea turtles are herbivores and get their greenish color from the sea grasses and algae they eat. This species lives just as long as the loggerhead. A good rule of thumb regarding sea turtles is that the larger the turtle species, the longer the turtle lives.

The third species, the Kemp's Ridley, is the state sea turtle of Texas and the smallest and most critically endangered species of sea turtle in the world. Once they reach adulthood, the Kemp's Ridley is roughly 2 feet long and weighs between 70 and 100 pounds. These turtles also have the shortest known lifespan, with most living to at least 30 years. They usually prefer to eat crab but feed on small fish, mollusks, and plants. Most of the Kemp's Ridley turtles nest in Mexico, but the area surrounding Galveston Island is the northernmost nesting range for the species. Unlike the loggerheads and green sea turtles, which nest at night, the Kemp's Ridley comes to shore during the daytime to nest, which is why you'll see biologists and volunteers scanning the beach for sea turtles during the day. All three of these species are listed as threatened or endangered.

Sea turtles have a unique and intricate process for digging their nests on the beach, which they perform with remarkable precision. Female sea turtles emerge from the ocean typically at night, except for the Kemp's Ridley, which nests during the day. They crawl to a suitable spot on the beach above the high tide line, where the sand is dry and stable. These mother turtles use their front flippers to clear away the dry surface sand, creating a shallow depression known as the body pit. Using her rear flippers, the turtle alternates scooping motions to dig a hole; after a hole is dug to about one to two feet, the mother turtle begins to lay her eggs; this can be up to a hundred sea turtle eggs, depending on the species. The mother turtle begins to cover the eggs with sand, and when completely covered, she then begins to disguise the nest from predators by throwing sand around with her front flippers, making the top of the nest look like it's part of the beach landscape. Once the nest is well covered and camouflaged, the turtle makes her way back out to the ocean, leaving the eggs to incubate in the warm sand.

If you've ever been walking on Galveston's beaches, you've likely walked by a sea turtle nest and didn't even know it. Many beaches in Texas are drivable. If you happen to be driving on the beach, drive slowly, day or night. Keep an eye out for turtles and hatchlings that might be stuck or hiding in tire tracks. Litter and trash, especially plastic, is a threat sea turtles face in both the ocean and on land. So, picking up litter along the beach is crucial. Plastic floating in the ocean can look a lot like a jellyfish or some other delicious snack to a sea turtle, but they can easily die from eating trash. Picking up even one piece of litter as you leave the beach can make a difference.

The best way to help protect these turtle species is by reporting sea turtles, nests, and even tracks that you see on the beach. If you spot a turtle or any signs of one, make sure to report it to the appropriate authority. In Texas, you can call the Turtle Island Restoration Network at 1-866-TURTLE-5. The sea turtle rescue team responds to any sick, injured, entangled, or dead sea turtles that are stranded along the upper Texas coast. If you see a live turtle or turtle eggs, make sure to keep your distance and don't handle the turtle or the eggs. All three species of sea turtles have a better chance of survival if they're left alone, and their nests can be monitored by local scientists.

From natural predators to human-made threats, these turtle species need all the help they can get. Whether it's driving carefully on the beach, picking up litter, or reporting turtle sightings, every action counts. We can ensure that these magnificent turtles continue to grace our beaches for generations to come.

Click the image above to listen to more episodes of Galveston Unscripted podcast.


J.R. Shaw Creator & Host of Galveston Unscripted

J.R. Shaw is the creator and host of Galveston Unscripted Podcast & audio tour. Shaw recognizes that history is nuanced and learning it can be powerful. He's made it his mission to reduce the friction between true history and anyone who is willing to listen! J.R. Shaw focuses on telling the full story through podcasting and social media with the goal of making learning accurate history easy and entertaining for all who seek it.

J.R. grew up along the Texas Gulf Coast, where he learned to love talking with anyone about anything! He started Galveston Unscripted after he realized how much he loved talking to people about their stories related to Galveston Island and Texas History. "So much of our history is lost when we don't have the opportunity to hear from those who lived it or have second-hand knowledge."