Lepidochelys kempii - (Garman, 1880)
Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle
Other English Common Names: Atlantic Ridley, Atlantic Ridley's Sea Turtle, Kemp's Ridley
Taxonomic Status: Accepted
Related ITIS Name(s): Lepidochelys kempii (Garman, 1880) (TSN 551770)
French Common Names: tortue de Kemp, tortue de Ridley
Unique Identifier: ELEMENT_GLOBAL.2.100121
Element Code: ARAAA04010
Informal Taxonomy: Animals, Vertebrates - Turtles
 
Kingdom Phylum Class Order Family Genus
Animalia Craniata Chelonia Cryptodeira Cheloniidae Lepidochelys
Genus Size: B - Very small genus (2-5 species)
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Concept Reference
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Concept Reference: King, F. W., and R. L. Burke, editors. 1989. Crocodilian, tuatara, and turtle species of the world: a taxonomic and geographic reference. Association of Systematics Collections, Washington, D.C. 216 pp.
Concept Reference Code: B89KIN01NAUS
Name Used in Concept Reference: Lepidochelys kempii
Taxonomic Comments: MtDNA data indicate that L. kempii is phylogenetically distinct from L. olivacea (Bowen et al. 1991).
Conservation Status
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NatureServe Status

Global Status: G1
Global Status Last Reviewed: 25Feb2014
Global Status Last Changed: 21Oct1996
Rounded Global Status: G1 - Critically Imperiled
Reasons: Range centered in Gulf of Mexico; only one major nesting area, along Gulf Coast of Tamaulipas, Mexico; population includes 7,000-8,000 adult females and is increasing; major threats include degradation of beach and coastal marine/estuarine habitats and mortality in commercial fisheries; vulnerable to oil spills.
Nation: United States
National Status: N1N (05Oct1996)

U.S. & Canada State/Province Status
United States Alabama (S1), Connecticut (SNA), Delaware (SNA), Florida (S1), Georgia (S1), Louisiana (S1B,S3N), Maine (SNR), Maryland (S1N), Massachusetts (S1N), Mississippi (S1N), New Hampshire (SNR), New Jersey (S1), New York (S1N), North Carolina (S1B,SUN), Rhode Island (SNR), Texas (S3), Virginia (S1N)

Other Statuses

U.S. Endangered Species Act (USESA): LE: Listed endangered (02Dec1970)
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Lead Region: R2 - Southwest
IUCN Red List Category: CR - Critically endangered
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species Protection Status (CITES): Appendix I

NatureServe Global Conservation Status Factors

Range Extent Comments: Adults essentially are restricted to the Gulf of Mexico. Immatures inhabit the Gulf and also the U.S. Atlantic coast north to Long Island Sound (Morreale et al. 1992), New England, and Nova Scotia. Occasional individuals reach Bermuda, the Azores, and European waters (see USFWS 1992, 1998). Important foraging areas include Campeche Bay, Mexico, and Louisiana coastal waters (Ogren 1992). Cold-stunned juveniles frequently appear in late fall/early winter on beaches on northern Long Island, New York (e.g., see Burke et al. 1991, Morreale et al. 1992). Live ridleys occur in Chesapeake Bay mainly from May through November (Mitchell 1991).

There is a single major nesting beach, at Rancho Nuevo, Tamaulipas, Mexico; 60 percent of nesting occurs along a 40-kilometer stretch of beach there (NMFS and USFWS 2007). In 2006, eggs were deposited in several hundred nests near Tampico, Mexico, and in about 100 nests in Texas (NMFS and USFWS 2007). Sporadic nesting has occurred as far north as North Carolina and south to Colombia (Palmatier 1993).

Area of Occupancy: 26-2,500 4-km2 grid cells
Area of Occupancy Comments: Coded area of occupancy is based on nesting areas, which encompass probably not more than a few hundred square kilometers; most nesting occurs in an area of less than 100 square kilometers (based on the 2 km x 2 km grid system).

Number of Occurrences: 1 - 5
Number of Occurrences Comments: Despite occurrence of this species throughout the Gulf of Mexico and in much of the northern Atlantic, there remains only a single important nesting area.

Population Size: 10,000 - 100,000 individuals
Population Size Comments: Total number of nests for all beaches in Mexico in 2006 was estimated at 12,143, with another 100 in the United States (mainly Texas) (NMFS and USFWS 2007). This equates to more than 4,000 females. Given a nesting interval of about 2 years or a little less, the total number of adult females in 2006 was approximately 7,000-8,000.

In 2007, more than 4,000 females nested during a 3-day period at Rancho Nuevo.

Number of Occurrences with Good Viability/Integrity: Very few (1-3)

Overall Threat Impact: Very high - high
Overall Threat Impact Comments: A major decline occurred with heavy harvest of eggs (and adults) prior to the mid-1960s, but now all main nesting areas have good protection. Present significant threats: beach and coastal development in areas away from the main nesting beach; various forms of coastal marine habitat degradation (e.g., bottom trawling and dredging of inshore and nearshore areas); mortality in shrimp nets and other fishing gear (this threat has been reduced to some degree through improved regulations); boat collisions; oil spills and exposure to other contaminants; and entanglement in and ingestion of marine debris (especially plastics) (Thompson 1990; CSTC 1990; USFWS 1992, 1998; NMFS and USFWS 2007). Threats to the main nesting beach in Mexico are presently few, but other areas in Mexico where nesting occurs are experiencing continued human population growth and increasing development pressure (USFWS 1992, 1998). Concentration of nesting in one area makes the species vulnerable to detrimental impacts of severe storms. The species' tendency to congregate in large numbers at breeding times increases vulnerability to disturbance. Climate change is a potential threats (could alter sex ratios; sea level rise and increased storm frequency could reduce nesting habitat).

Short-term Trend: Decline of >70%
Short-term Trend Comments: Annual number of nests at Rancho Nuevo increased significantly after the 1980s, from fewer than 1,000 to more than 4,000 by 2002 and 7,866 in 2006 (see NMFS and USFWS 2007).

Despite the recent increase, the trend over the past three generations (75 years, assuming average age of nesting female is 25 years) is a major decline (probably declined more than 90 percent).

Long-term Trend: Decline of >90%
Long-term Trend Comments: Number of nesting females declined from possibly more than 42,000 in a single arribada in the 1940s to only around 234 (740 nests) by the mid-1980s to 7,000-8,000 in 2006 (NMFS and USFWS 2007). However, the 1940s population may have been an order of magnitude smaller (see NMFS and USFWS 2007).

Intrinsic Vulnerability: Highly vulnerable

Environmental Specificity: Very narrow to narrow.

Other NatureServe Conservation Status Information

Inventory Needs: Nesting areas are well known (but need continued monitoring). Better information is need on important developmental habitats.

Protection Needs: This species is in need of continued protective fishing regulations (e.g., use of Turtle Excluder Devices, restriction of tow times, fishing closures) in the Gulf of Mexico and southeastern U.S. Atlantic coast. Increased protection of Rancho Nuevo beach should be funded. Strict standards and limitations on any potentially polluting activity, including disposal of plastics at sea, should be insituted. Lagoonal/estuarine feeding habitats need protection. Sronger limitations on outer continental shelf drilling and oil tanker design and traffic should be imposed. Designated critical habitat should be expanded.

See recovery plan (USFWS 1992, 1998).

Distribution
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Global Range: Adults essentially are restricted to the Gulf of Mexico. Immatures inhabit the Gulf and also the U.S. Atlantic coast north to Long Island Sound (Morreale et al. 1992), New England, and Nova Scotia. Occasional individuals reach Bermuda, the Azores, and European waters (see USFWS 1992, 1998). Important foraging areas include Campeche Bay, Mexico, and Louisiana coastal waters (Ogren 1992). Cold-stunned juveniles frequently appear in late fall/early winter on beaches on northern Long Island, New York (e.g., see Burke et al. 1991, Morreale et al. 1992). Live ridleys occur in Chesapeake Bay mainly from May through November (Mitchell 1991).

There is a single major nesting beach, at Rancho Nuevo, Tamaulipas, Mexico; 60 percent of nesting occurs along a 40-kilometer stretch of beach there (NMFS and USFWS 2007). In 2006, eggs were deposited in several hundred nests near Tampico, Mexico, and in about 100 nests in Texas (NMFS and USFWS 2007). Sporadic nesting has occurred as far north as North Carolina and south to Colombia (Palmatier 1993).

U.S. States and Canadian Provinces
Color legend for Distribution Map
Endemism: occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

U.S. & Canada State/Province Distribution
United States AL, CT, DE, FL, GA, LA, MA, MD, ME, MS, NC, NH, NJ, NY, RI, TX, VA

Range Map
No map available.


U.S. Distribution by County Help
State County Name (FIPS Code)
CT Fairfield (09001), New Haven (09009), New London (09011)
FL Franklin (12037), Palm Beach (12099), Pinellas (12103), St. Lucie (12111)
GA Camden (13039)
MS Harrison (28047), Jackson (28059)
NC Brunswick (37019), Carteret (37031), Currituck (37053), Dare (37055), Hyde (37095), New Hanover (37129), Pamlico (37137), Pender (37141)
NJ Ocean (34029), Salem (34033)
TX Brazoria (48039), Calhoun (48057), Kenedy (48261), Matagorda (48321), Nueces (48355), Willacy (48489)
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
U.S. Distribution by Watershed Help
Watershed Region Help Watershed Name (Watershed Code)
01 Thames (01100003)+
02 Long Island Sound (02030203)+, Delaware Bay (02040204)+, Cohansey-Maurice (02040206)+, Mullica-Toms (02040301)+
03 Albemarle (03010205)+, Pamlico Sound (03020105)+, Lower Neuse (03020204)+, White Oak River (03020301)+, New River (03020302)+, Lower Cape Fear (03030005)+, Coastal Carolina (03040208)+, Ogeechee Coastal (03060204)+*, Cumberland-St. Simons (03070203)+, Florida Southeast Coast (03090206)+, Crystal-Pithlachascotee (03100207)+, Lower Ochlockonee (03120003)+, New (03130013)+, Pascagoula (03170006)+, Mississippi Coastal (03170009)+
12 Sabine Lake (12040201)+, East Galveston Bay (12040202)+, Austin-Oyster (12040205)+, East Matagorda Bay (12090402)+, West Matagorda Bay (12100402)+, East San Antonio Bay (12100403)+, South Corpus Christi Bay (12110202)+, Central Laguna Madre (12110207)+, South Laguna Madre (12110208)+
+ Natural heritage record(s) exist for this watershed
* Extirpated/possibly extirpated
Ecology & Life History
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Basic Description: A small marine turtle.
General Description: This is a sea turtle with an almost circular carapace, olive green (adults) or gray (young) above, yellow below; 5 costals on each side of carapace, the first one touching the nuchal; usually 4 enlarged scutes on bridge, with a single pore at the posterior edge of each scute; usually there is an interanal scute at the posterior tip of the plastron; beak is somewhat parrotlike; young have 3 tuberculate dorsal ridges, four plastral ridges; limbs are flattened flippers; adult carapace length usually 58-70 cm (to 75 cm), mass 36-45 kg (to 50 kg); 3.8-4.4 cm at hatching (Conant and Collins 1991).
Diagnostic Characteristics: This species differs from the loggerhead in smaller size, lack of a reddish-brown dorsum, presence of an interanal scute, and presence of pored scutes on the bridge. It differs from the hawksbill and green turtles in having the first costal in contact with the nuchal. It differs from the Pacific ridley in having usually five costals on each side of the carapace rather than usually six or more.
Reproduction Comments: Individual adult females lay usually 3 clutches averaging about 95-100 eggs at intervals of 10-28 days, during daylight from April to July. Individual females nest at intervals of 1-4 years (most often 2 years). Large numbers of females may nest simultaneously on one beach. Eggs hatch in 45-58 days (see NMFS and USFWS 2007). Available information indicates that females begin nesting at an estimated age of 10-17 years (see NMFS and USFWS 2007). As is true of all sea turtles, this species has temperature-dependent sex determination.
Ecology Comments: Predation on eggs (especially by coyote), hatchlings, and nesting adults sometimes has resulted in high mortality rates. Human predation on eggs and nesting adults formerly was an important mortality source; presently, drowning of adults in commercial fishing gear is more important. Egg survivorship (to hatching) was 0.59 in one study (see Iverson 1991).
Habitat Type: Marine
Non-Migrant: N
Locally Migrant: N
Long Distance Migrant: Y
Mobility and Migration Comments: Most individuals move north or south from the major nesting beach at Rancho Nuevo and then settle in resident feeding areas for several months or more in various coastal locations in the Gulf of Mexico (see NMFS and USFWS 2007). An unknown percentage of the population migrates migrates up to thousands of kilometers between nesting beaches and Atlantic coastal feeding areas as far north as Long Island Sound, New York (Morreale et al. 1992; Morreale and Standora, no date), and beyond.
Marine Habitat(s): Near shore, Pelagic
Estuarine Habitat(s): Bay/sound, Tidal flat/shore
Terrestrial Habitat(s): Sand/dune
Special Habitat Factors: Benthic, Burrowing in or using soil
Habitat Comments: Habitat of adults primarily includes shallow coastal and estuarine waters, often over sandy or muddy bottoms where crab are numerous. Most adults stay in the Gulf of Mexico, and they are rare along the Atlantic coast of the northeastern United States. Apparently most activity is benthic. Post-hatchlings spend 1-4 years as surface pelagic drifters in weedlines of offshore currents in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean, then shift to benthic coastal habitats of various types, especially where crabs and other invertebrates are numerous (CSTC 1990, NMFS and USFWS 2007).

Nesting occurs on well-defined elevated dune areas, especially on beaches backed up by large swamps or bodies of open water having seasonal, narrow ocean connections.

Adult Food Habits: Invertivore
Immature Food Habits: Invertivore
Food Comments: Adults evidently are primarily benthic feeders that specialize on crabs; juveniles feed on sargassum, mollusks often associated with sargassum, and fishes and shrimps probably discarded by anglers (Shaver 1991). Spider crabs and rock crabs were important prey at Long Island, New York, where ridleys also consumed lady crabs, blue mussels, bay scallops, mud snails, marine plants, and debris (Burke et al. 1994; Copeia 1993:1176-1180). Recorded stomach contents also include shrimp, sea urchins, sea stars, and fishes.
Phenology Comments: In northern estuaries, diving activity peaked at dusk and dawn (see Morreale and Standora, no date).
Colonial Breeder: Y
Length: 70 centimeters
Weight: 45000 grams
Economic Attributes
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Economic Comments: Eggs formerly were heavily exploited.
Management Summary
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Management Requirements: The recovery plan (USFWS 1992) summarizes management needs. Frazer (1992) emphasized the primary need for clean and productive marine and coastal environments; installation of turtle excluder devices in shrimp trawl nets and use of low pressure sodium lighting on beaches were suggested as appropriate sea turtle conservation technologies, whereas headstarting, captive breeding, and hatcheries were regarded as ineffective at best. Captive breeding was not regarded as a preferred management tool by CSTC (1990). See also Bjorndal (1982).

Reduction in trawl-related mortality, through the use of turtle excluder devices and seasonal fisheries closures and/or reduced tow times by shrimp trawlers, is regarded as a primary management need (Mitchell 1991, NMFS 1993, Lewison et al. 2003).

All nesting areas should be protected throughout the reproductive season (through hatchling emergence).

Population/Occurrence Delineation
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Group Name: Sea Turtles (Cheloniidae and Dermochelyidae)

Use Class: Adult foraging area
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Reliable observation of multiple adults in an area that supports productive populations of appropriate food organisms. Multiple years of information should be used to reliably identify significant, persistent occurrences.
Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Justification: Separation distance refers to known areas of concentrated foraging activity. In most cases, occurrences should not be extensive areas such as the entirety of Long Island Sound or Chesapeake Bay but rather portions of such areas that stand out as strongly meeting the occurrence criteria.

Analyses of mitochondrial DNA variation have increased our understanding of the phylogenetic relationships among certain populations of sea turtles and have allowed the recognition of some evolutionarily distinctive units. However, available information on genetics, dispersion, and movement patterns of most sea turtle populations generally is insufficient to determine biologically meaningful separation distances for the different kinds of occurrences covered by the specifications. The separation distances used here do not attempt to identify biologically distinct populations but rather are arbitrary values that attempt to identify relatively distinct geographic areas that have frequent or concentrated activity and that are of practical size for conservation use. Additionally, these specifications assume that it is best to have uniform occurrence standards for all sea turtle species, placing greater emphasis on the general similarity of their life history patterns than on specific biological differences among species.

Foraging home range sizes of individual hawksbill turtles in the West Indies were 1.96-49.5 sq km and were positively correlated with average water depth (Horrocks et al. 2001).

Date: 20Oct2004
Author: Hammerson, G.

Use Class: Hibernaculum
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Reliable observation of multiple dormant individuals. Multiple years of information should be used to reliably identify significant, persistent occurrences.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Justification: Separation distance refers to known concentrations of dormant individuals. In most cases, occurrences should not be extensive areas such as the Atlantic coast of Florida but rather portions of such areas that stand out as strongly meeting the occurrence criteria.

Analyses of mitochondrial DNA variation have increased our understanding of the phylogenetic relationships among certain populations of sea turtles and have allowed the recognition of some evolutionarily distinctive units. However, available information on genetics, dispersion, and movement patterns of most sea turtle populations generally is insufficient to determine biologically meaningful separation distances for the different kinds of occurrences covered by the specifications. The separation distances used here do not attempt to identify biologically distinct populations but rather are arbitrary values that attempt to identify relatively distinct geographic areas that have frequent or concentrated activity and that are of practical size for conservation use. Additionally, these specifications assume that it is best to have uniform occurrence standards for all sea turtle species, placing greater emphasis on the general similarity of their life history patterns than on specific biological differences among species.

Date: 20Oct2004
Author: Hammerson, G.

Use Class: Juvenile foraging area
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Reliable observation of multiple juveniles in an area that supports productive populations of appropriate food organisms. Multiple years of information should be used to reliably identify significant, persistent occurrences.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Justification: Separation distance refers to known areas of concentrated foraging activity. In most cases, occurrences should not be extensive areas such as the entirety of Long Island Sound or Chesapeake Bay but rather portions of such areas that stand out as strongly meeting the occurrence criteria.

Analyses of mitochondrial DNA variation have increased our understanding of the phylogenetic relationships among certain populations of sea turtles and have allowed the recognition of some evolutionarily distinctive units. However, available information on genetics, dispersion, and movement patterns of most sea turtle populations generally is insufficient to determine biologically meaningful separation distances for the different kinds of occurrences covered by the specifications. The separation distances used here do not attempt to identify biologically distinct populations but rather are arbitrary values that attempt to identify relatively distinct geographic areas that have frequent or concentrated activity and that are of practical size for conservation use. Additionally, these specifications assume that it is best to have uniform occurrence standards for all sea turtle species, placing greater emphasis on the general similarity of their life history patterns than on specific biological differences among species.

Date: 20Oct2004
Author: Hammerson, G.

Use Class: Nesting area
Minimum Criteria for an Occurrence: Occurrences are based on evidence of historical presence, or current and likely recurring presence, at a given location. Such evidence minimally includes collection or reliable observation and documentation of one or more nesting individuals or nests with eggs.
Separation Barriers: None.
Separation Distance for Unsuitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Distance for Suitable Habitat: 10 km
Separation Justification: Analyses of mitochondrial DNA variation have increased our understanding of the phylogenetic relationships among certain populations of sea turtles and have allowed the recognition of some evolutionarily distinctive units. However, available information on genetics, dispersion, and movement patterns of most sea turtle populations generally is insufficient to determine biologically meaningful separation distances for the different kinds of occurrences covered by the specifications. The separation distances used here do not attempt to identify biologically distinct populations but rather are arbitrary values that attempt to identify relatively distinct geographic areas that have frequent or concentrated activity and that are of practical size for conservation use. Additionally, these specifications assume that it is best to have uniform occurrence standards for all sea turtle species, placing greater emphasis on the general similarity of their life history patterns than on specific biological differences among species.

Nesting populations on separate islands or mainland areas within the separation distance should be treated as parts of the same occurrence. However, each distinct nesting location can be treated as a distinct sub-occurrence (sub-EO) or source feature for which specific data can be recorded.

Date: 26Apr2004
Author: Hammerson, G.
Population/Occurrence Viability
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U.S. Invasive Species Impact Rank (I-Rank) Not yet assessed
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Authors/Contributors
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NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Edition Date: 07Apr2011
NatureServe Conservation Status Factors Author: Hammerson, G., and D. R. Jackson
Element Ecology & Life History Edition Date: 25Feb2009
Element Ecology & Life History Author(s): Hammerson, G.

Zoological data developed by NatureServe and its network of natural heritage programs (see Local Programs) and other contributors and cooperators (see Sources).

References
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