Sea Turtle Species Profiles
Kemp's ridley Sea Turtle
Scientific Name: Lepidochelys kempii
IUCN/Conservation Status: Critically Endangered - According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Kemp’s ridleys are considered Critically Endangered. This is a step higher from endangered and indicates that this species is at extremely high risk of extinction in the wild. The population decline largely stems from the species having one localized population and only two major nesting beaches in the world. They are also listed as Endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, as well as protected in Cuba, the Bahamas, and Mexico. Like other sea turtle species, Kemp’s ridleys are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, which protects them from commercial trade in countries that have signed the agreement (Witherington & Witherington, 2015).
Habitat and Distribution: Kemp’s ridleys can be found in warm temperate waters in the western North Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico (Witherington & Witherington, 2015).
Diet: Post-hatchlings and juvenile Kemp’s have been known to feed on hydroids, crabs, jellies, and other invertebrates. Juveniles and adults eat spider crabs, blue crabs, horseshoe crabs, and tunicates (Witherington & Witherington, 2015).
Size: Typically, an adult female Kemp’s ridley’s carapace will measure 61 to 71 centimeters (24 to 28 inches). They can weigh between 75 to 100 pounds (Witherington & Witherington, 2015).
Distinguishing Characteristics: Kemp’s ridleys are distinguishable from other sea turtles by their 5 lateral scutes and grey to olive-colored carapace, which is more circular than other species being wider than it is long. Kemp’s ridleys are also the smallest of the sea turtle species. Another unique characteristic of these turtles is their parrot-like beak (Witherington & Witherington, 2015).
Maturity and Reproduction: A Kemp’s ridley will reach maturity in about 12 years.
Most adult male Kemp’s ridleys live near the nesting beaches. In 1 Kemp’s clutch, the majority of the eggs are fertilized by 1 male, however, Kemp’s clutches have been known to have up to 4 paternities (Witherington & Witherington, 2015).
Nesting: Kemp’s ridley nesting takes place in 2 areas: almost all nesting occurs on the beaches of Tamaulipas, Mexico, with smaller scale nesting occurring in Texas (NOAA, Kemp’s Ridley Turtle, n.d.). Unlike other sea turtle species, Kemp’s ridleys are known for nesting during the day, in large groups called arribadas, which is Spanish for “arrivals.” Researchers do not know what triggers these mass nesting events, however, it is suggested that this type of nesting may be a defense against predators. Adult females nest every 1 to 3 years and may lay 2 to 3 nests. Each nest contains on average 103 eggs which will incubate for about 2 months. These turtles do not nest in Florida. Nesting season for this species is from April through June (Witherington & Witherington, 2015).
Conservation and Specific Human Impacts: Egg harvesting and drowning in commercial fishing trawls are thought to be 2 major threats to Kemp's ridleys. By the early 1900’s sea turtle egg collecting was common for people living on the coast. Egg collection has affected all species of sea turtle but was exceptionally detrimental to the Kemp's ridley population. By the 1960s their population was only about one one-hundredth of what it had been, 15 years prior. Trawling is the other major threat to Kemp’s ridleys and has killed hundreds of thousands of individuals of this species. This species is known to go after by-catch with trawling being a common practice in their habitat range. Kemp’s ridley arribadas were once known to have tens of thousands of individuals nesting, however, by the 1980’s it was rare for these nesting events to occur with over 200 turtles. Protecting their few nesting beaches, implementing regulations on trawls, and adding turtle excluder devices (TED’s) are some measures that have been taken to help Kemp’s ridley populations recover (Witherington & Witherington, 2015).
NOAA Fisheries. (n.d.) Kemp’s Ridley Turtle. https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/species/kemps-ridley-turtle
Witherington, B., & Witherington, D. (2015) Our Sea Turtles: A Practical Guide for the Atlantic and Gulf, From Canada to Mexico. Pineapple Press, Inc.