A critically endangered species
Kemp’s ridleys can weigh as much as 100 pounds as adults—though they are still the smallest species of sea turtle— and can live for decades. It takes about 15 years for turtles to mature to the point that they can lay eggs, and a mature female can lay two to three clutches of about 100 eggs each nesting season. But less than one percent of hatchlings survive to adulthood, so every adult turtle is important to the overall population—especially a breeding female.
Kemp’s ridley turtles live primarily in coastal environments in the Gulf of Mexico. Over the past century, these gentle creatures have faced increases in pollution, oil spills, and accidental catch risk from commercial fishing, as well as coastal development and crowded beaches in their nesting areas. And as Toni’s situation exemplifies, recreational fishing also poses a major threat.
It’s hard to count how many individual Kemp’s ridley sea turtles live in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean, so biologists count nests to track the health of the population. In the early 1940s, biologists estimated there were 40,000 nests in the Gulf of Mexico. By the mid-1980s, that number had fallen to fewer than 750. Through intensive conservation efforts, nests increased to 19,000 by 2009, but the number has dropped back down to 11,000 nests in 2014, the last year biologists published a nesting survey.
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