As The Baltimore Sun’s Candus Thomson notes, all five species of sea turtles found in the Gulf are listed under the Endangered Species Act (this was pre-oil leak). We’re looking at fast facts about these species, starting with the most endangered:
Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle
- the most endangered of the sea turtles
- the smallest of the sea turtles, measuring 23 to 28 inches, and weighing up to 100 pounds
- feed mostly on crabs
- reach maturity at 10 to 15 years old, and can live 30 to 50 years
- females nest from May to July, on beaches across the Gulf of Mexico
- Padre Island National Seashore is one of the most popular nesting beaches for the turtles in the US
- Kemp’s Ridleys are named after Richard M. Kemp, a fisherman from Key West, FL, who first submitted the species for ID in 1906
Kemp’s ridleys display what NOAA calls “one of the most unique synchronized nesting habits in the natural world”, called “arribada”— arriving in waves of hundreds on a single day on beaches in Mexico. Scientists discovered this phenomenon in 1947, when they saw an amateur video documenting an extraordinary arribada near Rancho Nuevo. It is said that approximately 42,000 Kemp’s ridleys nested during that single day. The video also showed locals harvesting more than 80% of the turtle eggs. The arribadas recorded since then have been much lower, numbering in the low thousands of nesting female turtles.
The habitat preferences of Kemp’s ridley hatchlings has led Florida biologist Blair Witherington to say they may well be “the poster child for what’s happening to wildlife” in the Gulf oil spill.
Photos courtesy National Park Service