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Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle

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A Kemp's ridley sea turtle that lost its flipper in an injury photographed at Gladys Porter Zoo in Brownsville, Texas

About the Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle

The Kemp’s ridley turtle is the world’s most endangered sea turtle.

Threats to Survival

Their perilous situation is attributed primarily to the over-harvesting of their eggs during the last century. And though their nesting grounds are protected and many commercial fishing fleets now use turtle excluder devices in their nets, these turtles have not been able to rebound.

Arribadas

For this reason, their nesting processions, called arribadas, make for especially high drama. During an arribada, females take over entire portions of beaches, lugging their big bodies through the sand with their flippers until they find a satisfying spot to lay their eggs. Even more riveting is the later struggle to the ocean of each tiny, vulnerable hatchling. Beset by predators, hatchlings make this journey at night, breaking out of their shells using their caruncle, a single temporary tooth grown just for this purpose.

Range and Appearance

Found primarily in the Gulf of Mexico, but also as far north as Nova Scotia, Kemp’s ridleys are among the smallest sea turtles, reaching only about 2 feet in shell length and weighing up to 100 pounds. Their upper shell, or carapace, is a greenish-grey color, and their bellies are off-white to yellowish.

Diet

They prefer shallow waters, where they dive to the bottom to feed on crabs, which are their favorite food, and other shellfish. They also eat jellyfish, and occasionally munch on seaweed and sargassum. They may live to be 50 years old.

Reproduction

Females aren’t sexually mature until about ten to twelve years of age. They nest every one to three years and may lay several clutches of eggs each season. Highly migratory animals, they often travel hundreds of miles to reach their nesting beach, usually the same beach they hatched from.