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The Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

June 03, 2018

The Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

The Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle is a critically endangered species.  They are literally the most endangered sea turtle that there is.

They can live to be about 50 years old and they can grow to be up to 100 pounds.  Their scientific name is lepidochelys kempii and they were discovered in the state of Florida by Richard Kemp.

It is unknown as to why they are called Ridley turtle, except for that they display some of the same behaviors as the Olive Ridley.  In the year 1970, this particular turtle was listed as an endangered species under to the Endangered Species Act in the United States.

kemps ridley sea turtle image

The Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Appearance & Physical Features

The Kemp’s Ridley Turtle has a head that is triangular in shape. 

Its shell has boney ridges with large overlapping scutes (scales). 

Normally the carapace has about 5 lateral scutes and is very rounded. 

This turtle is distinguishable by its almost circular carapace, or shell, that is almost as wide as it is long. 

The Kemp’s has flippers that have one claw on the front and two claws on the back. 

Adult Kemp’s turtles have a carapace that is grey green with white or yellowish plastron. 

The hatchlings are normally a dark black and only about 2 inches when they are born. 

Adults can grow up to be about 100 pounds and they measure about 2 feet. 

They do not have the ability to pull their heads into their shells and they are the smallest of all of the sea turtles.

Habitat and Diet

Habitat

The Kemps turtles usually prefer shallow areas with sandy and muddy bottoms. 

It is much easier to find food in the shallows than it is in the deeper waters. 

The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles were found in Florida but they live primarily in the coastal waters and bays of the Gulf of Mexico, and the northern Atlantic Ocean. 

They can also be found in Georgia and sometimes as even far North as New England during the summer time. 

Juveniles are the ones that can swim and live along the range between the tropical and temperate coastal areas of the northwest Atlantic Ocean. 

Diet

Kemp’s turtles normally feed on small animals and plants they find in the mats of floating algae.

Whenever they return to the shallow coastal areas, crabs become their preferred food. 

They have very powerful jaws that can help them to crush and grind crabs, clams, mussels, and shrimp.

They also like to eat other ocean dwellers like fish, sea urchins, squid and jellyfish. 

Even though the feeding behavior of the hatchlings and juveniles is not well understood, the juveniles are known to eat smaller pieces of crab.

Predators

There are quite a few natural predators of the Kemp’s turtle. 

Unfortunately, humans are a large part of the issues for the turtles, and are actually the turtle’s main predator. 

Animals like coyotes, skunks, dogs, foxes, weasels and racoons like to get into the nests, while other animals like ghost crabs, gulls, and other sea birds prey consistently on the hatchlings.

Watch This Awesome Story On Saving The Kemp's Ridley

 

Threats

Humans

There are a number of predators that can affect the life of these turtles, but how can these predators affect them? Humans are the turtles biggest threat and they can cause a lot of issues for the poor little guys. 

Humans cause habitat loss and degradation from building up areas where the turtles normally dwell. 

They are also responsible for the wildlife trade, and the collection of eggs and meat for consumption. 

Sometimes humans don’t even mean to capture the turtles and they are caught by incidental capture, which can cause all sorts of medical and health issues. 

Climate Change And Pollution

Climate change and pollution are also two, very big factors in the turtle’s life that humans are responsible for.  

In The Wild

The other issues come from predators that are simply in the wild. 

There are a number of animals that will steal the eggs of the turtles if they can be seen under the cover of the sand. 

Animals such as coyotes, skunks, dogs, foxes, weasels and racoons will all dig into the nests for a sweet egg treat. 

Other animals like ghost crabs, seagulls and other ocean dwelling birds will feed on the hatchling turtles as they come out of their shells and head for the ocean. 

It is no wonder the species is nearing extinction since they do not even have a good chance at the very beginning of their lives, and humans do damage to the adult turtles habitat.

baby kemp's ridley sea turtle image

Breeding And Reproduction

Females are sexually mature at about seven to fifteen years old, normally reaching optimum sexual maturity as early as ten years of age or as late as twelve. 

Female Kemp’s turtles will often return to nest on the same beach as they were hatched. 

They nest every one to three years, coming up onto the beach and finding a place to place their bushel of eggs. 

When these female turtles all come together to lay their eggs it is called an arribada, which is Spanish for arrival. 

Nesting is usually completed between May and July and the majority of the Kemp’s nesting worldwide occurs in Tamaulipas, Mexico. 

These female turtles usually will lay up to three clutches of 100 eggs that must incubate for 50-60 days. 

Kemo’s female turtles will normally camouflage their nests by rocking from side to side after covering the nest. 

This helps in order to compact the sand and disguise the nest better, which keeps predators from stealing the eggs.

Ecology

These turtles are from the family Cheloniidae. This family contains seven different species within five genera. These turtles are truly aquatic and only come on land to mate. These are the only turtle types to have front leg, or flippers, stronger than their back ones. The shell of a Cheloniidae is normally very oval and can occasionally be heart-shaped.  The limbs of the Kemp’s are modified into flippers for swimming and cannot support the normal weight of the turtle on land. 

Unfortunately, these sea turtles have also lost the ability to retract their heads within their shells. This makes them a lot more vulnerable to predators and attacks. 

The adult females are known to migrate hundreds of miles between feeding habitats, mating areas and their preferred nesting beach in Rancho Nuevo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. 

It seems that adult males appear to be nonmigratory.  They stay mainly in coastal waters around Rancho Nuevo.

adult kemp's ridley sea turtle image

Study Of Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle

Studies of the sea turtles have been completed in order to determine how best the species can be helped. 

The migration pattern of the Kemp’s turtle, what they eat, what habitats they live in and how they mate have all been studied, all the way down to the way they look and move. 

It has been found that only the female of the species is migratory, and only during the months that they will be giving birth.  

The studies that have been completed have shown that Human kind is the greatest threat to the turtle, most of the time without it being intentional. 

Currently, these turtles are being researched in order to determine what can be done in order to help the species keep from becoming fully extinct. 

There are companies, like the World Wildlife Foundation, that are wholly devoted to the protection of these wonderful marine mammals.

kemps ridley sea turtle image

The Future Of Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle

If action is not taken soon there will be no Kemp’s Ridley turtles left. 

The World Wildlife Foundation and other companies are taking actions to address the impacts that climate change has on the Kemp’s turtle. 

Marine biologists have been monitoring the migration patterns of marine turtles so that more can be done in order to protect the nesting sites for these wonderful marine mammals. 

These companies are also working on improving and supporting trade controls, and reducing bycatch in order to promote smart fishing. 

It is currently illegal for anyone to disturb, kill, or take the eggs of the Kemp’s Ridley, and even though the population is showing early signs of recovery, the species is still considered highly endangered.  It will stay that way until the species has been properly repopulated.  

Nesting Grounds

Currently the United States and Mexico are working cooperatively to protect and recover  the Kemp’s Ridleys on the nesting beaches and in the marine environment. 

Nesting females and their nests are fully protected by animal enforcement officers in Mexico. 

TED's

In both the United Statea and Mexico, it is required of shrimp fishermen to use a device that allows the turtles to get out of the net if accidentally caught.

It is currently believed that the use of these devices, which are called TED’s, are responsible for a lot of the repopulation of the Kemp’s Ridley, and the decrease of accidental catching.

It is very important that other people start to work with the law enforcement and environmental agencies in order to promote the health and life of this species.

Beach Cleanups

People can participate in beach cleanups in order to preserve the habitat of the Kemp’s Ridley. 

Turtles awareness can be raised if a person did a presentation on turtles for their class to raise awareness, adopt a turtle, or follow a sea turtle telemetry project. 

Many people do terrible things, like unconsciously leaving trash to float away at beaches. 

Even if one person stops this kind of behavior, and lets another know where the trash actually ends up, the turtles will have a much better chance.

Our Mission

At Sandy Ripple our goal is to spread a message. We have a way to share with others who love turtles that also supports associations.

If you'd like to become part of the ripple, click this link to shop our collection of apparel.

A portion of all the proceeds goes to sea turtle groups and organizations, so they can use those dollars where its needed most.

 



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