Olive ridley turtle

Once slaughtered in their hundreds of thousands for meat and leather, olive ridleys have yet to recover from centuries of over-exploitation. While the species has a wide range, the number of important breeding sites is very restricted, so efforts to protect their major beaches are vital.
Olive ridley turtles are found on the beaches of French Guiana during the dry season, starting in ... rel=
Olive ridley turtles are found on the beaches of French Guiana during the dry season, starting in July.
© WWF-Canon / Roger LeGUEN

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  • Common Name

    Olive Ridley, Pacific Ridley; Ridley du Pacifique, tortue bâtarde, tortue de ridley, tortue olivâtre (Fr); Tortuga golfina, tortuga olivacea (Sp)

  • Scientific Name

    Lepidochelys olivacea

  • Population

    Approx. 800,000 nesting females

  • Status

    IUCN: Vulnerable A2bd CITES: Appendix I CMS: Appendix I and II

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Illegal harvest of eggs continues

The illegal harvest of olive ridley eggs in the Central American region continues, and there is also high mortality of adults due to coastal fisheries that do not yet use Turtle Excluder Devices (TEDs) in their nets.

Physical Description

The olive ridley looks very similar to the Kemp's ridley, but has a deeper body and slightly up-turned edges to its carapace (shell).

Size

The average length is 70cm, and adults weigh approximately 45kg.

Colour

Rusty coloured carapace.

Breeding

After reaching sexual maturity when they are about 12 years old, many thousands of females emerge from the sea and nest simultaneously over a period of 2 to 3 days. These arribadas (a Spanish word meaning 'mass arrivals') may be an adaptation against predation, and one reason for the success of this species.

However, the olive ridley often chooses small, narrow beaches and their nests may be so closely packed that subsequent waves of females often dig up other nests in efforts to lay their own eggs. Arribadas may be repeated 2 to 7 times a season.

Diet

This species feeds essentially on crabs and shrimps, but also jellyfish, small invertebrates, tunicates, small invertebrates and fish eggs. Individuals have been captured in prawn trawls at depths of 80 to 110m, and are therefore considered capable of foraging at these depths.

Current Population and Distribution

Olive ridleys occur through the Antilles, around the north coast of South America, in West Africa, the Indian Ocean, Australia and southeast Asia. There are also many important nesting and feeding grounds on the east Pacific coast from as far north as Canada to as far south as southern Peru.

Nesting occurs at low frequency throughout much of its range, with the highest concentrations of the olive ridley found on the coast of Orissa state, India. The principal beaches are Garhimatha, Ruchikulya and Devi River mouths. On the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, the main nesting beaches are Nancite and Ostional, and La Escobilla on the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico. Populations in northern Australia and south-east Asia are known to be different genetic stock to the Orissa turtles. Populations of olive ridleys are reported to have declined in Pakistan, Myanmar, Malaysia and Thailand, and possibly on the east coast of India, south of Orissa and in the Andaman and Nicobar islands.

A recent estimate of 800,000+ female olive ridleys has been made.

Nesting Range States
Angola, Australia, Bangladesh, Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, French Guiana, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Oman, Pakistan, Panama, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Senegal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Tanzania, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela.

Ecological Region
Southern Australian Marine, Benguela Current, Humboldt Current, Agulhas Current, Western Australia Marine, Gulf of California, Canary Current, Sulu-Sulawesi Seas, Bismarck-Solomon Seas, Banda-Flores Sea, Great Barrier Reef, Palau Marine, Andaman Sea, East African Marine, West Madagascar Marine, Mesoamerican Caribbean Reef, Greater Antillean Marine, Southern Caribbean Sea, Northeast Brazil Shelf Marine
 / ©: Sebastián Troëng
Olive Ridley turtle.
© Sebastián Troëng

What are the main threats?

The main threats which affect marine turtles are:
  • Habitat loss and degradation
  • Wildlife trade
  • Collection of eggs and meat for consumption
  • Incidental capture (bycatch)
  • Climate change
  • Pollution
The belief that turtle eggs have aphrodisiac properties is a major threat to olive ridley populations in Central and South America. The illegal nature of the turtle egg trade makes it difficult to estimate the impact on olive ridley populations but seizures of eggs are not uncommon. The largest on record occurred in October 1996 in Mexico City, when a lorry was seized containing over 500,000 olive ridley eggs, taken from a single beach. The size of this haul indicates a large demand for eggs in Central America and the Hispanic communities of California and Florida.

Olive ridleys were once killed in large numbers for meat and leather. There were many economically important slaughterhouses on Mexico's Pacific coast, where officially over 1 million turtles were killed each year during the 1960s. This slaughter was reduced when legal quotas were introduced, although a smaller illegal industry persists.
Olive ridley turtle is a priority species. WWF treats priority species as one of the most ecologically, economically and/or culturally important species on our planet. And so we are working to ensure such species can live and thrive in their natural habitats.

Why is this species important?

Marine turtles fulfill important roles in marine ecosystems.
Olive ridley turtles feed on invertebrates and may play important roles in both open ocean and coastal ecosystems.

What is WWF doing?

WWF works to protect marine turtles throughout the world through specialist programmes and regional projects devoted to the conservation of marine turtles.

This includes:
  • 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.


A child helps collecting olive ridley turtle (<i>Lepidochelys olivacea</i>) eggs, ... / ©: WWF-Canon / Carlos DREWS
A child helps collecting olive ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea) eggs, during the legal harvest by the Ostional community in the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.
© WWF-Canon / Carlos DREWS

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Did you know?

    • Recent genetic studies indicate that the genus of ridley turtles (Lepidochelys) split into two species, olive ridleys and Kemp's ridley, after the closing of the Isthmus of Panama.
    • Characteristically, ridley turtles rock from side to side compacting the sand over the nest to disguise it.
    • 1997's Hurricane Pauline destroyed nearly half a million nests, the equivalent of 40 million eggs and 10 million hatchlings, on La Escobilla beach, in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico.

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