Kemp’s Ridley is also known as the Atlantic Ridley sea turtle is critically endangered and is the rarest of all sea turtles. They get their name from the man who originally discovered them, Richard Moore Kemp (1825 – 1908). It is one of two living species in the genus Lepidochelys, the other being the Olive Ridley sea turtle.
At maturity, a Kemp’s Ridley is between 23 and 28 inches and weighs only 79 to 99 pounds, which makes it the smallest sea turtle species. Like other sea turtles, it has a dorsoventrally depressed body with specially adapted flipper-like front limbs and a beak. With a usually olive-gray color, the adult carapace is oval and is almost as long as it is wide. Being a shallow-water benthic feeder their diet consists of mollusks, crustaceans, jellyfish, fish, algae, seaweed, and sea urchins. Young turtles primarily feed on crabs.
Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles prefer warm water, but you will find them as far north as New Jersey. Most females return each year to a single beach – Rancho Nuevo in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas to lay their eggs. Arriving in large groups of hundreds the nesting aggregations are called arribadas, which means arrivals. Nesting occurs between April and August. They prefer areas with dunes or swamps. It is estimated that in 1947 there were 89,000 females nesting. By 1985, that number was down to 7,702.
Nesting takes place two or three times during a season, with 10 to 20 days between each nesting. On an average, there are 100 eggs in a clutch and incubation takes between 45 to 70 days. During the incubation period, sex is decided by the temperature. If the temperature is below 85 degrees, the offspring will be mainly male.
You will find juvenile turtles floating in sargassum seaweed beds for their first couple of years. Once they start to mature, they migrate from the Gulf of Mexico to the northwest Atlantic waters. Hatchlings are almost entirely dark purple. As they mature, the carapace becomes an olive-gray, and the plastron will be yellow-green or white. Between 10 and 12 years of age, they reach sexual maturity.
Their numbers depleted first due to hunting. Today the major threats for the Kemp’s Ridley include habitat loss, pollution, and entanglement in shrimping nets. They were originally listed on the Endangered Species Conservation Act in 1970 and subsequently listed on the Endangered Species Act in 1973.
Trying to protect them from fishing nets, shrimp trawls are now attached with the turtle excluder device (TED). The device consists of a grid of bars with an opening at the top or bottom fitted into the neck of the shrimp trawl. This allows small animals to slip through the bars, while larger sea turtles strike the bars and are ejected and hopefully avoid the possibility of drowning.
Ten days after the Deepwater Horizon accident, 156 sea turtle deaths were recorded; most were Kemp’s Ridleys.