Nature

The Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Nests in Texas and Is Extremely Endangered

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Texas’ Gulf of Mexico is home to five different species of sea turtles. The green, loggerhead, hawksbill, leatherback, and Kemp’s ridley turtle all live in the deep, warm waters of the Gulf. All five species have been documented nesting on Padre Island National Seashore either historically or recently, but the majority of the nesting records are of the Kemp’s ridley.

The Smallest of Texas’ Sea Turtles

Kemp's Ridley turtle on beach

Photo: Pixabay/Skeeze

The Kemp’s ridley turtle is the smallest of Texas’ sea turtles, with an average length of 23 to 27.5 inches and an average weight of 100 pounds. If the water grows cold, these sea turtles can adjust their metabolic rate and can remain underwater for hours. Turtles can go two to three months without food. These turtles are called Kemp’s ridley because Richard Moore Kemp of Key West was the first to send a specimen to Samuel Garman at HarvardHowever, the etymology of the name “ridley” itself is unknown.

Temperature Determines the Sex of Offspring

Kemp's ridley hatchlings

Photo: Facebook/Turtle Island Restoration Network

When it comes to Kemp’s ridley offspring, the temperature determines the sex of the babies. Eggs placed in a warm incubator tend to hatch as female turtles. Eggs kept at cooler temperatures hatch as males. Padre Island National Seashore, near Corpus Christi, records more turtle hatchings than any other location in the U.S.

Hatchling releases typically occur from mid-June through August. Most releases that are open to the public take place at 6:45 a.m. on Malaquite Beach in front of the Visitor Center at Padre Island National Seashore on North Padre Island in Corpus Christi, Texas. Click HERE to find out more about how to witness a hatchling release.

One of the Most Endangered Species Worldwide

turtle

Photo: Pixabay/Skeeze

Kemp’s ridley turtles reach maturity at 10-15 years of age. On average, every two years females come ashore to lay their eggs. The males spend their entire lives at sea once they have hatched. The group of eggs laid by one mother at one time is referred to as a “clutch.” During each nesting season, females lay from one to four clutches of eggs (average 2.5-3.0). One clutch can have from 50 to 130 eggs.

The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle remains one of the most endangered turtle species worldwide. The species was placed on the Endangered Species List in 1970. Over the centuries, people have harvested the eggs and killed the turtles for their meat and leather-like skin. Between the 1940s and 1960s, the population crashed as people harvested truckloads of eggs and sold them in small towns in Texas and Mexico. More recent threats include suffocation in shrimpers’ large nets and ingesting floating trash that they mistake for food.

Joint efforts by Mexico and several U.S. agencies have boosted populations of this endangered species. The efforts include protecting nesting turtles and their nest sites and regulating fishing. As a result, the number of Kemp’s ridley nest sites in the Gulf region has grown from 702 nests in 1985 to about 22,000 in 2012.