“The Kemp’s ridley sea turtles begin arriving at Padre Island National Seashore in April, waves breaking against their olive-colored shells, salt spraying from their nostrils as they haul themselves up the sandy beach to nest. Every year, volunteers and park staff led by Dr. Donna Shaver—head of the National Park Service’s (NPS) Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery—are waiting for them. Both parties fall into a well-established rhythm: dozens of female turtles, in mass nesting events known as “arribadas,” or arrivals, work together to dig deep pits in the beach with their flippers. Then they deposit their eggs—often more than one hundred per female—and return to the sea. (The turtles may return to lay eggs one or two more times between April and August.) After each group of turtles has departed, the humans sweep in, moving the eggs to protected areas and incubators, carefully raising the next generation for release back into the Gulf of Mexico.
Shaver’s program is a crucial partner in a forty-year international conservation effort meant to help the turtles recover. Despite these impressive results, in a report published in June, regional NPS officials—none of whom appear to have worked in Texas—pushed to cut funding from the program.
In response, lawyers with the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a Maryland-based nonprofit group that represents whistleblowers, filed a 28-page administrative complaint on Shaver’s behalf, alleging that the NPS’ recommendations, if carried through, are in violation of the federal Endangered Species Act—and that the report “suffers from a lack of integrity, accuracy, completeness, and reliability.””