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Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle

(Lepidochelys kempi)

The Kemp's ridley is the most seriously endangered sea turtle and among the most highly endangered species of the world. Although these unique turtles hatch in Mexico, and primarily inhabit southern waters, many juveniles travel up the warm current of the Gulf Stream to Long Island's waters each summer.

Unlike other sea turtles, female Kemp's ridley turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in the daylight hours. Also unique to their behavior, all females nest in large numbers at the same time (called an "arribada"), only once a year, at the same location. Only one nesting beach is known in the entire world along the Gulf of Mexico coast. They often crawl over one another to nest and their frantic digging can create a small sandstorm along the entire beach.

Much of the historical information on the nesting of these interesting animals comes from a single film made in the 1940's which shows approximately 45,000 females at the single nesting beach. Since then these numbers have declined drastically. As of 1990 the annual count of females returning to the one nesting beach was under 300 individuals! This number has risen in recent years to an estimated 400 - 500. Local residents, and wild and domestic predators have swarmed to this beach for years to harvest the plentiful eggs. Commercial shrimping and fishing has also contributed to this turtle's decline as animals become entrapped and drown. Efforts to save the ridley include modifying fishing gear to avoid their drowning, armed guards at the nesting site in Mexico and increased research on their biology and behavior.

Kemp's ridleys are a drab, dark olive green color on top, and light greenish underneath. Their large head has a prominent "beak" used to grab and break up crabs, shellfish and other hard shelled prey. By far the smallest sea turtle, ridleys reach 2 - 3 feet in length and up to 100 pounds as adults. As only juveniles come into our waters, they are often referred to as "dinner plate size," measuring about one foot in diameter and weighing 8 - 12 pounds.

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