CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Six recipients have been honored with the 2014 “Harte’s Heroes” Award for their efforts, which have been instrumental in furthering the successful recovery of the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle.
The Harte Research Institute (HRI) at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi honored five individuals and one organization during the annual “Harte’s Heroes” award ceremony and reception held Thursday, June 5, at the Art Museum of South Texas. Each year, the HRI commemorates “World Oceans Day” by recognizing individuals and groups who have demonstrated their passion for protecting and preserving the vast natural resources of the world’s ninth-largest body of water.
“Without the tireless commitment of our ‘Harte’s Heroes’ and other dedicated people and organizations like them, the smallest and rarest of sea turtles would have disappeared from our oceans by now,” said Dr. Larry McKinney, HRI Executive Director. “Unfortunately, the Kemp’s ridley is once again threatened, not only by disasters natural and man-made, but by federal funding cuts for conservation programs. In the face of these challenges, we must redouble our efforts to save the only endangered marine species that breeds exclusively in the Gulf’s waters.”
The 2014 Harte’s Heroes are:
- Dr. Patrick Burchfield, Chairman of the Science Advisory Board for Sea Turtle, Inc., is one of the world’s leading authorities on the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. Beginning in 1973, he pioneered research of the rarest of all sea turtles and, for more than 30 years has been the driving force behind the Rancho Nuevo Sea Turtle Project, the only place in the world where large groups of the Kemp’s ridley are known to nest. He currently serves as Executive Director of the Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas.
- Les Hodgson represents the United States on the Consultative Committee of Inter-American Conference on Sea Turtle Restoration, serves on the board of the Texas Shrimp Association, and is a member of the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Recovery Team. In 1995, the co-owner of Marco Sales, a thriving shrimp wholesaler in Brownsville, Texas, used a $30,000 donation from the NFI Shrimp Council to spearhead the construction of a camp at the second largest nesting beach in Tepehuajes, Mexico.
- Luis Jaime Peña, a native of Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico, studied biology at Universidad del Noreste in Tampico, Tamaulipas. In 1987, he made his first trip to the Rancho Nuevo turtle camps where he had the opportunity to work on nest data management, which led to his appointment as the camp’s field crew coordinator in 1997. Peña became the Operations Director for the U.S. Contingent of the Kemp’s Ridley Binational Project and was named the Gladys Porter Zoo’s Curator of Conservation Programs in 2007.
- Dr. Pamela Plotkin is Director of Texas Sea Grant, an organization that for more than 30 years has been a leader in funding research about the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. Now a Research Professor in the Oceanography Department at Texas A&M University, Plotkin began her career in the early 1980s as part of the bi-national Kemp Ridley Sea Turtle Program. Since then, her research has focused on the mass nesting behavior of sea turtles. She is currently leading efforts to call attention to the declining number of Kemp’s ridley nests in Mexico and Texas.
- Dr. Donna Shaver, Chief of the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at the Padre Island National Seashore, is Principle Investigator for a Natural Resources Damage Assessment study to determine potential injury to the Kemp’s ridley population from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In addition to helping develop the Department of Interior’s restoration activities for sea turtle nesting, she has initiated a widely acclaimed sea turtle program that integrates conservation, research, and public education activities.
- Sea Turtle, Inc. is a non-profit organization that rescues, rehabilitates, and returns injured sea turtles to their natural environment. Founded in 1977, the organization was originally formed to protect the Kemp’s ridley but has recently expanded its mission to include the conservation of all marine turtle species. The organization helps fund three bi-national projects: a beach patrol project with Mexico that locates the nests of Kemp’s ridley, incubates the eggs, then releases the hatchlings into the Gulf of Mexico; the Michoacan (Mexico) project to conserve nesting black turtles and their eggs; and the Shell Beach project in Guyana, South America, to help the Leatherback sea turtle.