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Kemp's Ridley or Atlantic Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii)

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Kemp's ridley turtle picture
Family: Cheloniidae

Order: Testudinata

Status: Endangered

Description:
The smallest sea turtle species, reaching a maximum length of 75 cm and weighing less than 100 pounds. The heart-shaped carapace is grayish-green in color and is commonly wider than long in adults. Hatchlings are usually darker in color and may appear black.

Habitat and Distribution:
This turtle is found in coastal waters and bays of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic. The adults are found primarily in the Gulf of Mexico, as a juvenile it frequents the Atlantic coast as far North as New York. They prefer the shallow waters in the bays for feeding on a large variety of crustaceans. This is the most endangered sea turtle due to commercial shrimping in the Gulf of Mexico.

Life History and Ecology:
Scientists believe the Kemp’s Ridley turtle historically nested throughout the east-coast of Mexico and Texas and possibly even in Florida. Today, the primary nesting beach is a 10 mile stretch of beach near Ranco Nuevo in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico. The females nest during the daylight hours between April and August, when large groups of this species congregate and come to shore as a large group. This phenomenon is called an arribada (Spanish for the arrival). There may be as many as three mass nesting events per season. The Ridley nests yearly and will deposit an average of 110 eggs that take 50-70 days to hatch. The longevity of this turtle is unknown, but captive Ridleys have been held in captivity for 20 years.

Basis of Status Classification:
Less than 50 years ago, this was a very abundant turtle in the Gulf of Mexico with a reproductive effort estimated at 40,000 females in one day during an arribada in Mexico. The population declined rapidly until the early 1970’s due to intensive egg harvesting and the mortality of juveniles and adults in commercial fisheries. The recovery has been forestalled primarily by incidental mortality in commercial shrimp nets.

Recovery Guidelines:
The Kemp’s Ridley can be considered for downlisting to Threatened under the Endangered Species Act if the following conditions are met :

  1. Continue complete and active protection of the known nesting habitat, and the waters adjacent to the nesting beach and continue the bi-national protection project.
  2. To essentially eliminate mortality from incidental catch in commercial shrimping in the United States and Mexico through use of Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) and to achieve full compliance with the regulations requiring TED use.
  3. To attain a population of at least 10,000 females nesting in one season.
  4. To successfully implement all priority one recovery tasks (NMFS and USFWS, 1992).

Recommendations:

  1. Protect and manage nesting habitat
    • expand and codify the Kemp’s Ridley Natural Reserve in Mexico
    • restrict development that may degrade the nesting habitat (Mexico)
    • identify, and manage, additional nesting beaches in Mexico and U.S.
  2. Protect and manage marine habitat
    • identify important marine habitat
    • identify threats to marine habitat and prevent destruction to habitat
  3. Protect and manage populations
    • protect and manage populations on nesting beaches
    • protect nesting females and the nest left behind
    • increase hatchling production
    • monitor population trends
  4. Protect population in the marine environment
    • determine distribution and abundance
    • monitor and reduce mortality from fisheries
    • monitor and reduce impacts from petroleum activities
    • monitor and reduce impacts from dredging
  5. Maintain Captive Stock
  6. Increase Education Programs

References:
Ernst, C, J Lovich and R Barbour. 1994. Turtles of the United States and Canada. Smithsonian Institution Press. Pp. 59-73.

Lutz, P and J Musick. The Biology of Sea Turtles. CRC Press. Boca Raton, Florida. 432 pp.

National Marine Fisheries Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service. 1991. Recovery Plan for the Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle. National Marine Fisheries Service, Washington, D.C.

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