Kemps Ridley Sea Turtle

Lepidochelys kempii
From April to mid-July, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles come ashore to lay eggs on the warm subtropical sands of South Padre Island.

The federally-endangered Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle is one of the smallest sea turtles, measuring about 23 to 27 inches long and weighing about 100 pounds. It is the only sea turtle with an almost circular upper shell. The young are dark gray in color but change as they mature. Adults are olive green above and yellow below. They reach maturity at 10-15 years of age.

The Kemp’s Ridley occurs in the northwestern Atlantic Ocean but is primarily found in the Gulf of Mexico, where it feeds mainly on crabs in shallow Gulf coastal waters. It has one of the most restricted ranges of any sea turtle, and its major nesting area is along the northeastern Mexican coast.

Around 1947, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle populations were at their highest known point. In a single day an estimated 40,000 females were recorded during an “arribada,” a mass nesting, at a beach along Rancho Nuevo, Mexico.

Populations sharply declined due to various reasons, including the exploitation of their eggs and later due to mortality of juveniles and adults as by-catch in shrimp trawler nets. By 1985, only about 700 nests were documented in the same area of Rancho Nuevo.
Fortunately shrimping operations have now incorporated the use of turtle excluder devices, which have significantly reduced the incidences of sea turtles getting caught in trawler nets. In 1978, the governments of Mexico and the United States joined to help establish another nesting colony at Padre Island National Seashore.

Currently, due to bi-national efforts and an aggressive turtle nest protection, relocation, and monitoring program, Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle populations are stable or increasing.

On the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, staff works closely with Sea Turtle, Inc., a non-profit organization, to ensure the long-term survival of this species. During nesting season, hundreds of trained volunteers patrol the South Padre Island and Boca Chica beaches in search of sea turtles, tracks and nests. When a nest is discovered, biologists collect the eggs and transport them to a protected area. When the baby turtles begin to hatch they are released on the same beaches to imprint and one day return to nest. There are opportunities for the public to witness some releases. Call the Hatchling Hotline at 956-433-5735, or visit Sea Turtle, Inc. on Facebook to find out when a public release is scheduled.

The number of Kemp’s Ridley nesting in the United States has steadily increased from six nests in 1996 to 209 in 2012. Of these, 69 were found on south Texas beaches. Hopefully this species won’t be endangered much longer!

Facts About Kemps Ridley Sea Turtle

On average, females will come ashore every two years to lay their eggs

The males spend their entire lives at sea once they have hatched.

During the nesting season, females will lay one to four clutches of eggs with each clutch containing anywhere from 50 to 130 eggs.