Kemp's ridley turtle
Kemp's ridley, Atlantic Ridley, Gulf Ridley, Mexican Ridley; Lépidochelyde de Kemp, Ridley de Kemp, Tortue de Kemp (Fr); Cotorra, Tortuga Lora, Tortuga marina bastarda (Sp)
IUCN: Critically Endangered (CR A1ab) CITES: Appendix I CMS listing: Appendix I and II
Approx. 1,000 nesting females
A species back from the brink?
Conservation efforts led by USA and Mexico have been ongoing since the 1970s, when the nesting beach of Rancho Nuevo was declared a National Reserve. These efforts have been relatively successful and today there is a female breeding population of approximately 1,000 individuals.
Ridley turtles are around 70cm long, and up to 40kg in weight.
The carapace (shell) of Kemp's ridley is olive grey, while the plastron (underside) is yellowish/white.
Adult females migrate hundreds or even thousands of kms between feeding habitats, mating areas and their preferred nesting beach in Rancho Nuevo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. Adult males appear to be nonmigratory, and stay mainly in coastal waters around Rancho Nuevo.
Having reached sexual maturity at around 12 years of age, the nesting takes place during daylight along a single stretch of coastline in the Gulf of Mexico. Like olive ridleys, this species nests in arribadas -'mass arrival' in Spanish.
Kemp's ridleys are thought to nest every 2 years, with approximately 3 clutches of about 90 eggs in one season. Incubation lasts about 45 days, and the nesting season extends from March to August, with a peak in May and early June.
Characteristically, ridleys camouflage their nests by rocking from side to side after covering the nest, in order to compact the sand and disguise the nest.
Kemp's ridleys are carnivores, although the feeding behaviour of the hatchlings and juveniles is not well understood. Adults eat crabs, shrimp, clams, and sea urchins. Juveniles eat small species of crabs, but prefer larger species as they mature.
Shallow sand and mud, estuaries
Gulf of Mexico, western Atlantic
Greater Antillean Marine, Mesoamerican Caribbean Reef
What are the main threats?
- Habitat loss and degradation
- Wildlife trade
- Collection of eggs and meat for consumption
- Incidental capture (bycatch)
- Climate change
Various factors caused the decline of this species, including near-total exploitation of eggs, slaughter of adults for meat by local people, and fisheries bycatch during shrimp trawling. Today, fishing nets and gear may be its biggest threat yet.
Nests of the Kemp's ridley are shallow and poorly disguised, making them relatively easy for human and non-human predators to find. Animals such as coyotes, skunks, and racoons predate the nests, and ghost crabs, gulls, and other sea birds prey on the hatchlings. In addition, this species is locally threatened by pollution.
Why is this species important?
Kemp's ridley turtles feed on invertebrates and may play important roles in both open ocean and coastal ecosystems.
What is WWF doing?
- Action to address the impacts of climate change.
- Monitoring the migration patterns of marine turtles.
- Improving and supporting trade controls.
- Protecting nesting sites.
- Reducing bycatch and promoting smart fishing.
How you can help
- Send a turtle to rehab! Help the recuperation process for thousands of sick and injured turtles.
- Don't buy products which have been made from sea turtle parts. Guitars, ashtrays, jewellry and other products made from sea turtles are sold to tourists around the world.