Galveston’s beaches are no strangers to visitors, especially during the summer. Each year, more than 7 million people come to vacation here.
This year, however, a very special visitor made Galveston it’s preferred summer getaway destination. A Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle—the world’s rarest and most endangered sea turtle species—nested on a new beach near the corner of Seawall and 86th Street.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Galveston District’s beach renourishment project helped make the nesting possible.
The sand used to replenish Babe’s Beach is provided through the District’s routine maintenance dredging of the Galveston Channel, said Chris Frabotta, the District’s operations chief. The routine dredging keeps the channel deep enough for large ships to access the port facilities at Galveston, Texas City, and Houston.
“This is all done in keeping the Corps of Engineers’ navigation mission to provide safe, reliable, efficient, and environmentally sustainable navigation channels for the movement of commerce,” Frabotta said.
Since 2015, the Galveston District has partnered with the Galveston Park Board of Trustees, the City of Galveston, and the Texas General Land Office in getting fresh sand to replenish Babe’s Beach. The partnership was part of an ongoing effort to maintain and protect Galveston’s beaches at no additional cost to local residents.
“The Galveston District pays for dredging of the sandy material from the channel while the [Galveston] Park Board and the Texas General Land Office cost share the incremental amount required to transport the sand to the beach,” Frabotta said.
USACE has replenished the beach three times: first in 2015; then in 2019; and most recently during the summer of 2021, Frabotta said. The sand is dredged from the Galveston Channel and then placed along the Galveston shoreline, primarily the area known as Babe’s Beach. To date, USACE has placed about 1.7 million cubic yards of sand onto Babe’s Beach.
“This is a new beach thanks to the Babe’s Beach renourishment project, where we previously have no historical records of nests occurring,’ said Theresa Morris, rehabilitation hospital manager at Texas A&M’s Gulf Center for Sea Turtle Research.
When turtles nest on Galveston, Morris and her team excavate the entire clutch and transfer it to Padre Island National Seashore for incubation and release, she said. “This is because almost all nests in the upper Texas coast zone would become inundated, crushed, or predated if left in place.”
“We are very excited about this event,” Morris said. “As this project brought new nesting habitat to an endangered species.”
While the placement of dredged sand along Babe’s Beach creates more beaches for Galveston residents and beachgoers from all over Texas, the creation of a nesting habitat for the sea turtles was an unintentional benefit, Frabotta said.
“We’re really proud to know the dredging and sand placement is doing more than creating recreational opportunities for Galveston, but also benefitting local marine life by creating more nesting grounds for a critically endangered species,” Frabotta said.
The next cycle of sand placement at Babe’s Beach is scheduled for April 2023.
For more information on the sea turtle species of the Texas coast, visit: https://www.tamug.edu/GulfCenterforSeaTurtleResearch/.
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