The true story of how 96 endangered sea turtle hatchlings survived a New York City beach

It was a Thursday, so there probably wouldn’t have been too big of a crowd, but luckily there were at least a few beachgoers out at West Beach, near the western tip of the Rockaway Peninsula, when a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle — a member of a critically endangered species — crawled on shore and started building a nest. Even more luckily, a couple of those beachgoers had the presence of mind to report it to a 24-hour marine wildlife rescue hotline.

July 12 saw highs in the mid-80s in New York City this year — a typically hot, muggy NYC summer day. Perfect beach weather, in other words.

It was a Thursday, so there probably wouldn’t have been too big of a crowd, but luckily there were at least a few beachgoers out at West Beach, near the western tip of the Rockaway Peninsula, when a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle — a member of a critically endangered species — crawled on shore and started building a nest. Even more luckily, a couple of those beachgoers had the presence of mind to report it to the 24-hour rescue hotline of the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation, a local marine wildlife conservation and rescue organization.

Those calls likely saved the lives of 96 sea turtle hatchlings, all of whom successfully made the trek back out to the ocean two months later. While human activities are the primary reason Kemp’s Ridleys face an uncertain future — harvesting of adults and eggs, destruction of their coastal nesting habitats, and entanglement in fishing gear are the chief threats to the species — in this case, human intervention was crucial to the turtles’ survival.

Maxine Montello, the Rescue Program Director at the Riverhead Foundation, had just released two loggerhead turtles, rehabilitated over the previous year, on a Long Island beach when she first heard about the calls regarding the nesting Kemp’s Ridley.

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