Washington, DC July 16, 2020 – The internationally recognized Sea Turtle Science and Recovery Program at Padre Island National Seashore is being sharply curtailed with a significant portion of its funding redirected, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
Among cutbacks are limits on rescuing stranded sea turtles and reducing the number of highly popular public releases of sea turtle hatchlings.
The program has been key to survival of the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, but also helps save threatened loggerhead and green turtles. Its hatchery and incubation efforts are world renowned and serve as a vital resource in rescuing stranded sea turtles on the Texas Gulf coast.
The pretext for the cuts is a National Park Service (NPS) “Review” which claims a projected budget shortfall in three to five years if grants the program has won over the past 20 years are not renewed. The Review then prescribes financial strictures that make a shortfall a self-fulfilling prophecy. Park superintendent Eric Brunnemann has embraced the Review and ordered a 30% cut in sea turtle program funding and other steps limiting program operation.
Besides fewer hatchling releases, supposedly to save money, Review actions include –
• Confining rescues of stranded sea turtles to park boundaries;
• Discouraging further work with threatened loggerhead and green turtles; and
• Reducing nest relocations even where beach driving is allowed and eliminating beach patrols on weekends, when visitation is highest.
“Padre Island Seashore is committing conservation malpractice to the detriment of sea turtles,” stated Pacific PEER Director Jeff Ruch, pointing out the park has not undertaken consultations required by the Endangered Species Act, nor has it engaged the public as required by the National Environmental Policy Act before it acted. “These moves were hatched behind closed doors and could not withstand public scrutiny.”
The Director of the Sea Turtle Science and Recovery Program is Dr. Donna Shaver, one of the world’s leading sea turtle experts, who has authored more than 100 articles in peer-reviewed journals. Among her many awards and honors, this year she is a finalist for the Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals, the first NPS finalist since 2008.
Brunnemann did not share the NPS Review with Dr. Shaver before distributing it and announcing its implementation. On Dr. Shaver’s behalf, PEER today filed a legal complaint under the federal Information Quality Act demanding that the Review be retracted due to many misleading findings, inaccuracies, and actions that violate law as well as NPS policy. One of many issues is new restrictions placed on the scope of sea turtle research, in violation of the agency’s Scientific Integrity Policy. NPS has 60 days to respond to the complaint and Dr. Shaver may appeal any denial of her demand for retraction.
“Padre Island is cannibalizing one of its best and most important programs for bureaucratic reasons having nothing to do with the recovery of sea turtle populations,” added Ruch. “The steps Padre Island is now pursuing will result in many needless sea turtle deaths.”
Dr. Shaver is now under a gag order requiring Brunnemann’s approval for any media interviews.