Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle

Lepidochelys kempii

Scientific Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Family: Cheloniidae

Species Description

Adult Weight: Up to 45 kgs (100 lbs)
Adult Size: 0.6 m (2 ft)
Appearance: Gray to light olive green rounded carapace
Diet: Crabs (particularly for juveniles), fish, jellyfish, mollusks

Natural Lifespan: 30 - 50 years
Age at Sexual Maturity: Females 10 - 17 years; Males 11 - 30 years
Average Clutch Size: 100 eggs
Average Clutches per Season: 1 - 4 clutches
Nest Incubation Period: 45 - 65 days
Remigration Interval: 1.9 - 3.3 years

Life Cycle


Geographic Range: Tropical to temperate waters extending from the Gulf of Mexico into the Atlantic along the East Coast of the United States.

Marine Habitat Use: Most adult Kemp’s ridleys remain in coastal waters within the Gulf of Mexico.

Hatchling dispersing from nesting beaches along the Gulf of Mexico may spend up to two years navigating currents in the Atlantic. Nesting sites with currents facilitating rapid movement into deeper waters with fewer predators and dispersal to suitable feeding grounds lead to improved survival. 


Archival footage taken in 1947 documents more than 40,000 Kemp’s ridley in an arribada on a nesting beach in Tamaulipas, Mexico — but by 1985, biologists counted only 702 nests. Mexico initiated conservation of Kemp’s ridleys and later joined forces with the United States to protect the declining species. The joint conservation effort included a successful headstarting program in Texas, which positively contributed toward recovery. Implementation of laws in both Mexico and the United States requiring use of Turtle Excluder Devices on shrimp trawlers also improved conservation outcomes for Kemp’s ridleys.

Kemp’s ridley conservation efforts experienced a massive setback in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. At 134 million gallons, Deepwater Horizon was the largest ever offshore oil spill in US waters. Despite heroic efforts by first responders and veterinarians, NOAA estimates that up to one fifth of juvenile Kemp’s ridleys died in the wake of the spill. Oil and chemical dispersants used in the clean up remain in the Gulf of California, but scientists have yet to determine their long-term impacts on Kemp’s ridleys and other sea turtles.

Fun Fact

The name Kemp’s ridley is most likely a combination of a means to honor Richard Kemp, a fisherman who studied the species, and a linkage with the Olive ridley species that also exhibits mass nesting behavior.