This research guide provides information on local sea turtle conservation efforts, especially for Kemp's ridley turtles and citizen conservationists Ila Loetscher and Dearl Adams. Resources include primary source materials from Special Collections, books from the library catalog, and links to additional secondary and external resources.
Five of the world's seven species of sea turtle are found within the Gulf of Mexico, including the Kemp's ridley, green turtle, loggerhead, hawksbill, and leatherback. Sea turtles have long been susceptible to the hazards of marine debris, entanglement in fishing gear and by-catch, boat and ship traffic, poaching, and climate change. All species are protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Yet, no sea turtle species has recovered enough to be completely removed from the ESA and some populations continue to decline and suffer stranding. The Gulf of Mexico is particularly critical to the smallest and most critically endangered sea turtle species, Kemp's ridley turtle, which nests on the beaches of Mexico and South Texas.
This collection consists of (80) 35 mm, full-color, photographic slides compiled by Dearl Adams for Project Ridley. The photographs depict the beaches and nesting grounds of Kemp's ridley sea turtles, and Adams efforts to re-establish the turtles on South Padre Island, Texas, during the mid-1960s. Collection is located at the Brownsville campus of the University Library, Special Collection & Archives (BLIBR 2.202).
Ila (Fox) Loetscher (1904–2000) was an an aviator and conservationist. When her husband of 32 years died, she moved from NY to SPI. Known as the "Turtle Lady", Loetscher became a sea turtle enthusiast on a trip with Dearl Adams in 1965 to retrieve endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle eggs from Mexico to establish a rookery on South Padre Island. In 1977, she received a state license to care for sick and injured sea turtles, founding Sea Turtle, Inc.
She grew up with her twin sister, Olive, in Iowa. Loetscher attended Central College in Pela and eventually earned a BA from University of Iowa. She became the first woman to earn a pilot's license in Iowa and Illinois. Loetscher corresponded with Amelia Earhart and was a charter member of the Ninety-Nines, an international organization of licensed women pilots.
A tireless conservationist and animal activist, Loetscher patrolled beaches to search for sea turtle nests and protect their eggs. Eventually, she installed tanks and began caring for turtles and hatchlings at home. Injured turtles were treated until they could be released back into the Gulf of Mexico. Loetscher's efforts were formalized with the establishment of Sea Turtle, Inc. on South Padre Island.
She was a national celebrity during her lifetime and The [Jacque] Cousteau Almanac of the Environment: An Inventory of Life on a Water Planet credited Loetscher with "having done more than any other human being to focus attention on the plight of the Kemp's or Atlantic Ridley [turtles]..."
Dearl Adams and his family (brother Thearl and wife Ethel) were citizen conservationists from Brownsville, Texas. The Adams family led efforts to gather eggs from the sole Kemp's ridley sea turtle rookery in Playa Rancho Nuevo, Mexico and relocate them to new nesting grounds on South Padre Island. Dearl and Ethel Adams along with their children and Ila Loetscher would drive six hours to Playa Rancho Nuevo and back. They would plant eggs on the beach on South Padre Island and guard them until they hatched (50–60 days) and made their way to the waters of the Gulf.
"From 1963–1967, a project was undertaken to establish a nesting colony of Kemp’s Ridley Turtles on South Padre Island. During these years, Mr. Dearl Adams and others brought 5,098 Kemp’s Ridley eggs from RN and buried them in the beach on South Padre Island. The resulting 1,227 hatchlings entered the Gulf of Mexico there."
Shaver, Donna & Caillouet Jr, Charles. (2015). Reintroduction of Kemp’s Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) sea turtle to Padre island national seashore, Texas and its connection to head-starting. Herpetological Conservation and Biology. 10. 378-435.
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