Life of Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle

Life of Sea | Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) | This animal is one the rarest animal in the world. It is also the most endangered of the sea turtles . Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles are also called Atlantic Ridley Sea Turtles. They are a close relative of the Olive ridley sea turtle. It is one of the the smallest sea turtles. Kemp's ridley sea turtles generally prefer warm waters. The species occurs mainly in coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico and the northwestern Atlantic Ocean. You can see them in the northeastern coast of Mexico. It is the major nesting beach for Kemp's ridleys. Adult Kemp's are primarily found in muddy or sandy bottoms. Almost all females return each year to a single beach Rancho Nuevo in the Mexico to lay eggs. Some travel as far away as the coast of Ireland.

Adult generally weigh 45 kg with a body length of 65 cm. Kemp's ridley sea turtles  have broad and light gray-olive in color in their shells. They are off-white to light yellow on the ventral side, or plastron. Juvenile turtles have gray-black carapaces (top shells) and plastrons (breast plate). Hatchlings have lighter gray-olive carapaces and plastrons. There are 2 pairs of prefrontal scales on the head, 5 vertebral scutes (plates), 5 pairs of costal scutes and 12 pairs of marginals on the carapace. Four scutes perforated by a pore are found on each bridge joining the plastron to the carapace. The pore is the opening of Rathke's gland which secretes a substance of unknown function. Males resemble the females in size and coloration. Secondary sexual characteristics of male sea turtles include a longer tail, more distal vent, recurved claws and, during breeding, a softened mid-plastron.

Kemp's ridley sea turtles feed jellyfish, mollusks, and variety of small fish. They are able to hunt for food in areas of very cold water. This is due to a mechanism that allows them to reduce their metabolism. This also allows them to remain under water for hours at a time. Due to the way their can control their bodies metabolism, the Kemp's ridley sea turtles can be without food for a period of up to three months when necessary. Kemp's ridley sea turtles reach sexual maturity between 11-35 Years. Females lay eggs that measure 34-45 mm in diameter and weigh 24-40 g. Incubation lasts between 48-62 days. Hatchlings range from 42-48 mm in straight line carapace length, 32-44 mm in width and 15-20 g in weight.

Although sea turtles move swiftly in the ocean, they are slow and defenseless on land. Male sea turtles almost never leave the water. Female sea turtles leave the ocean only to lay eggs and, for most species, nest only at night. Females of most species may nest every two to three years. The female Kemp's ridley has a unique nesting behavior known as the "arribada" or arrival in Spanish. Females congregate in the shallows and all emerge at once to lay eggs on the beach. Nesting season for Kemp's ridley sea turtles lasts from April-July.

The Kemp's ridley population has declined since 1947 when an estimated 42,000 females nested in one day to a nesting population of approximately 1,000 in the mid 1980's. The reason is due to human activities including collection of eggs, fishing for juveniles and adults, killing adults for meat and other products and direct take for indigenous use. In addition to these sources of mortality, Kemp's ridleys have been subject to high levels of incidental take by shrimp trawlers. Today, under strict protection, the population appears to be in the earliest stages of recovery. The increase can be attributed to two primary factors: full protection of nesting females and their nests in Mexico and the requirement to use turtle excluder devices (TEDs)  in shrimp trawls both in the United States and Mexico.

There are few threats to the nesting beach for this species in Mexico, but the existing threats are potentially serious. Coastal development will result in increased threats to the nesting beach. Only the central part of the prime nesting area is protected by Mexican presidential decree. A primary concern is human encroachment and access along the entire nesting area. However, the wording of the Mexican decree is vague and construction of commercial fishing facilities proceeded in 1987 immediately adjacent to the main turtle camp at Rancho Nuevo. Occasionally, plans for massive expansion of La Pesca (just to the north of the nesting area) as a fishing center or dredging of the Gulf Intercoastal Waterway from Brownsville, Texas to Barra del Tordo (in the south part of the nesting beach) are reported. These plans are alarming because of the assuredly detrimental and possibly disastrous effects that they could have on the nesting population if they were to be completed.
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