Kemps ridley sea turtle


Kemps ridley sea turtle: Lepidochelys kempii

Taxonomic Classification

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Chelonia
Order: Testudines
Family: Cheloniidae
Genus/Species: Lepidochelys kempii
Common Name: Kemp’s ridley sea turtle

Listing Status

Federal Status: Endangered
FL Status: Federally-designated Endangered
FNAI Ranks: G1/S1 (Critically Imperiled)
IUCN Status: CR (Critically Endangered)

Physical Description

The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is the smallest species of sea turtle and is the most endangered turtle in the world. This species reaches a length of 2-2.5 feet (70-76 centimeters) and a weight of 85-100 pounds (39-45 kilograms). It is recognized by its olive-gray circular shaped carapace (upper shell section) and large head with a beak similar to a parrot. Kemp’s ridley usually has 12 pairs of marginal scutes (scutes that surround the perimeter of the carapace), five coastal (lateral) scutes, five vertebral (center) scutes, and one nuchal (cervical) scute (Schmid and Barichivich 2006).

Life History

The diet of Kemp’s ridley sea turtle primarily consists of crabs and other crustaceans. 

Kemp’s ridley sea turtles develop nests in sand along beaches.  The nesting season is between April and July.  Female Kemp’s ridley sea turtles will arrive to nest at the same time as a large group after gathering offshore of Rancho Nuevo, Mexico.  This process is known as “arribadas” or “arrival” in English.  Nesting females are mainly found on the beaches of Rancho Nuevo, Mexico; however, they can be found on Texas and Florida beaches also.  Females will lay two to three clutches each season with a 100 eggs per clutch.  The incubation period for the eggs is 45-58 days (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration 2011, NMFS et al. 2011, Schmid and Barichivich 2006).  Sexual maturity is reached at 7-15 years of age (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, n.d.).

Habitat and Distribution

Kemps Ridley SeaTurtle  Distribution MapKemp’s ridley sea turtles inhabit marine waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the western North Atlantic Ocean (Schmid and Barichivich 2006, Nesting Map Data: See map in NMFS et al. 2011).


The main threat to the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is accidental capture (bycatch) in shrimp and fishing nets such as longlines, finfish trawls, beach seines, drift and set gill nets (Schmid and Barichivich 2006).  When captured in these nets, the sea turtle cannot escape and will usually drown.   Increased development will bring an increase in lighting in the area, which is detrimental to sea turtles as hatchlings will migrate towards the light instead of the ocean.  The potential for eggs and hatchlings being crushed or disturbed is increased with the increase of human presence along beaches.  Beach sand renourishment can bury Kemp’s ridley sea turtle nests along beaches.  Beach armoring (ex. seawalls) is a threat as the structures prevent the natural maintenance of beaches and sand dunes.  Other threats include habitat degradation from contaminants and pollutants (ex. oil spills) (NMFS et al. 2011). 

Conservation and Management

The Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle is protected as an Endangered species by the Federal Endangered Species Act and as a Federally-designated Endangered species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule External Website, and by Florida's Marine Turtle Protection Act (379.2431, Florida Statutes External Website).

Florida Statutes (F.A.C. Rule 68E-1) External Website restrict the take, possession, disturbance, mutilation, destruction, selling, transference, molestation, and harassment of marine turtles, nests or eggs.  Protection is also afforded to marine turtle habitat.  A specific authorization from Commission staff is required to conduct scientific, conservation, or educational activities that directly involve marine turtles in or collected from Florida, their nests, hatchlings or parts thereof, regardless of applicant's possession of any federal permit.

Federal Recovery Plan External Website

Other Informative Links

Florida Natural Areas Inventory External Website
FWC Sea Turtle Page
FWC Artificial Light Information
International Union for Conservation of Nature External Website
National Geographic External Website
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration External Website
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Species Profile External Website
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Factsheet External Website



Printable version of this page Adobe PDF


National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and SEMARNAT. 2011. Bi-National Recovery Plan for the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii), Second Revision. National Marine Fisheries Service. Silver Spring, Maryland 156 pp. + appendices.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. (22 September 2011). Retrieved June 14, 2012, from NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service: External Website

Schmid,. J.R., W.J. Barichivich. 2006. Lepidochelys kempii – Kemp’s ridley. In Biology and Conservation of Florida Turtles. Pages 128-141.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. (2011). Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii). Retrieved May 19, 2011, from North Florida Ecological Services Office: External Website

Image Credit Photo courtesy of NOAA

FWC Facts:
Although black bears in western states may have several color phases, all black bears in the eastern United States, including Florida black bears, are black.

Learn More at AskFWC