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K is for Kemp's Ridley

Of the seven sea turtle species splashing around the ocean, the Kemp's ridley is one of the smallest — and the most critically endangered.

K is for Kemp's Ridley Illustration

Kemp's ridley sea turtles are found in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean, from Florida to New England. In 1947, an onlooker captured a video of nesting Kemp's ridley sea turtles on a beach in Mexico.

In that single day, an estimated 42,000 turtles lumbered onto the beach to lay their eggs. Today, however, scientists estimate that only about 1,000 breeding females remain in the wild.

Kemp's ridley sea turtles only grow to about 2 feet in length and weigh about 100 pounds. That's relatively small compared to other sea turtles, like the loggerhead that averages 350 pounds or the green that can weigh nearly 700.

As hatchlings, Kemp's ridleys measure only 1.5 inches and weigh in at a mere .5 ounces. If you can imagine, that is just about the weight of half a slice of bread.

Once females reach sexual maturity, after about 10 to 12 years, they begin traveling hundreds of miles to find nesting beaches. Kemp's ridleys participate in a unique nesting ritual called an arribada, or arrival.

Kemp's Ridley Turtle

As if by cue, hundreds of the turtles descend upon a beach at once, coming ashore in waves to nest. The turtles typically lay two to three egg clutches, totaling about 100 eggs. It takes nearly two months of incubation before they are ready to hatch. If the hatchlings make it out of the nest, they face a pretty treacherous track to the ocean.

Guided by the light of the moon, they head for the water, avoiding predators along the way and in the shallows.

Many juveniles will settle in sargassum. The floating swaths of seaweed offer both shelter and food for the young turtles, giving them time to grow before heading into riskier open waters.

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