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Marine Animal Encyclopedia

Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle Lepidochelys kempi

Also known as the Atlantic Ridley sea turtle, the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle is the smallest marine turtle, and also the most threatened, largely as a result of its unusual breeding behavior. Unlike most marine turtles, Kemp’s Ridleys lay their eggs by day, and the females crawl out of the sea simultaneously, during mass nestings called arribadas (Spanish for “arrivals”).

At one time, these nestings took place throughout the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle’s range, but because the eggs were laid in such large concentrations in daylight, they were easy prey for human egg-harvesters and natural predators. Today, the vast majority of Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles breed on a single beach in Mexico, where their nests are protected.

Kemp's Ridley sea turtles were also often caught as bycatch in shrimp nets, but turtle excluding devices (TEDs) fitted to nets have helped to reduce this threat. Several weeks after an arribada, young Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles emerge from their eggs in the thousands to make the dangerous journey down the beach and into the relative safety of the sea.

Adult Kemp's Ridley sea turtles are carnivorous bottom-feeders that mainly hunt crabs. They have an unusually broad carapace, and their small size makes them agile swimmers. The carapace changes color with age: yearlings are often almost black, while adults are light olive-gray. A closely related species, the olive Ridley turtle (L. olivacea), lives throughout the tropics. It is much less endangered than the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle, thanks to its wider distribution.

Threats to Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles

While the number of nesting female Kemp's Ridley sea turtles has increased from hundreds to thousands, the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle still needs protection. Major threats to Kemp's Ridley sea turtles include being caught in fishing gear, habitat destruction, expanding human populations and the effects of global warming on sex ratios.

What Oceana Does to Protect Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles

Oceana's campaign to save sea turtles is dedicated to the protection and restoration of sea turtle populations in the world's oceans. The campaign works to reduce sea turtle bycatch in fisheries, protect sea turtle habitat and develop legislation to protect sea turtles.

Kemp's Ridley Turtlezoom image
  • Order Chelonia
  • Length 20–35 in (50–90 cm)
  • Weight 55–90 lb (25–40 kg)
  • Habitat Coral reefs, coasts
  • Distribution Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, occasionally as far north as New England
Kemp's Ridley Turtle habitat mapzoom image