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The Kemp’s Ridley turtle got named after Richard Kemp, who was the first person to give a report of seeing this species of sea turtles. The name Ridley was derived from the word riddle; this is because, nobody was certain on what that type of turtle was and people perceived it from different perspectives. The Nesting behavior of Kemp’s Ridley turtle was a riddle until when isolated nesting beach was discovered by researchers in an area called Rancho Nuevo in Mexico; this was the place where the female Kemp’s Ridley turtle laid their eggs, use sand to cover the eggs and leave them to hatch (Linda Campbell, 1995). These species of sea turtle can lay about two clutches of approximately 100 eggs; their eggs are the smallest compared to the eggs of other sea turtles, and the nesting period is usually between April to august each year.
The Kemp's Ridley females become sexually mature after attaining an age of ten to fifteen years, but less is known about the Kemp's Ridley male. Kemp's Ridley females travel many kilometers to reach the beach where they nest, usually the same nesting beach where they hatched. Some scientists believe the hatchlings can remember the beach where they hatched either through a particular smell, magnetic location of that beach or chemical make-up. Additionally, some scientists believe that these turtles may have magnetite (an iron ore) in their brains, which they may apply in finding the way along the earth’s magnetic fields. On the other hand, Kemp's Ridley male spend its whole life in the water while female travel on to land to nest and they lay their eggs on daytime (Richard P. Reading, 2000). The female usually travels to the same beach to nest year after year. The major predators of these turtles include human beings; this may be through hunting, nets and boats propellers. The other predators include animals like shark, shore birds and other marine animals.
According to scientists, these turtles have the ability of regulating their metabolic rate and they can stay beneath the water for hours if the water gets cold. They also argue that Kemp’s Ridley turtles can survive two to three months without food. Additionally, scientists have found out that turtle eggs placed in warm incubator hatch female turtles while the eggs placed at a cooler temperature usually hatch male turtles. In 1947, reports indicated that over 40,000 of this species of sea turtle were nesting alongside the Gulf of Mexico shores, but some turtles nest in Texas. Kemp’s Ridley turtles lay their eggs in mass nesting group referred as arribadas. This group can comprise of hundreds to thousands of females turtles gathering to lay their eggs on the same nesting beach every year. One arribada may comprise of up to 40,000 turtles (Marty Fletcher, 2006).
It is believed that some hatchlings (small Kemp’s ridley turtles) swim from the Gulf of Mexico to Sargasso Sea, which is in the middle of the Atlantic. When these turtles mature, they move to west sides towards shallower water along the coast of North America, a place where they can reside for decades. Currently, Kemp's Ridley has been the smallest and most endangered sea turtle species, and according to researchers the length of this turtle is two feet and its weight is approximately 100 pounds, making it the smallest turtle in the world. These turtles categorized as carnivores, and they feed on other sea creatures such as jellyfish, crabs, clams, shrimp and urchins. Additionally, these turtles belong to cold blooded amphibians and according to researchers, these turtles can live up to 50years, but only a small number of these turtles can survive up to sexual maturity.
These species of turtle seems to be the only sea turtle with the routine of nesting during the daytime. In 1947, the largest nesting was found at Rancho Nuevo beach in Tamaulipas, Mexico and reports indicated that about 40,000 Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles came on shore to nest. Currently, such large gathering does not take place because of huge decline of these turtles. Between 1940’s and 1970’s poaching of these turtles and collecting their eggs ruined the population of these turtles. As a result of continued effort between the Mexican and Texas governments, Kemp’s ridley sea turtle got federal protection in 1975, and this initiative has played a key role in the recovery of Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, which were in the process of becoming extinct. Around 2009, a large nesting of these turtles got captured at Rancho Nuevo in Mexico which happen to be their main nesting beach. Reports indicated that, for the duration of two days an average of 5,000 Kemp's ridley sea turtles had come to this area to lay eggs.
Surprisingly, the current reports indicate that only 200 Kemp’s Ridley turtles are present on those areas. This provides clear evidence that Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles are the most endangered animal in the entire United States and in Mexico. Unfortunately, people in those areas liked to eat the eggs of Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles since they were easily harvested, this affected the population of these species of turtles by 1960s, and the population of these turtles had dropped drastically. As a result of this decline, Mexican government at that time banned the harvest of turtle eggs in 1966, but people continued with poaching. This contributed to a huge reduction in the number Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles.
In 1970, the name of this turtle got placed in the endangered list. This was due to their increased decline since for many years people used to harvest their eggs and killed them for meat and their skin. The population of these turtles decreased drastically because people harvested many eggs and sold them to various small towns in both Mexico and Texas. Currently, the major threats to these turtles include ingesting floating waste which they mistake for food. Another threat to these turtles is suffocation in large nets.
In 1982, the number of Kemp's Ridley sea turtles had decreased to more to approximately 1,500. Overexploitation of Kemp's Ridley turtles and eggs harvesting by man has been the main cause of their decline. As a result of a huge decline, the beach of Rancho Nuevo has been under the protection from Mexican marines, assisted by U.S. Fish and wildlife service (FWS) among others. This protection has led to reduction of poaching by human (http://www.fws.gov/northflorida/SeaTurtles/Turtle%20Factsheets/kemps-ridley-sea-turtle.htm).
In order to address this problem, some agencies that deal with the protection of marine animals have been participating in the international program aimed at saving Kemp's Ridley sea turtles from extinction. Some of these agencies include Southeast Fisheries Centre (SEFC) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). This is joint conservation efforts between various agencies such as NMFS (National Marine Fisheries), Texas Park and Wildlife Department (TPWD), National Park Service (NPS) among others. The goals and objectives of this program are to increase the population of Kemp's Ridley sea turtles.
The major approach of this program is to protect the nesting turtles and their eggs from human interference in the beach. The program also prohibits all individuals from being in possession or selling turtle, their eggs or their products. Also, this program promotes the use of trawling efficiency device (TED) to allow the turtles to escape from the net without causing any adverse effect on the shrimp catch. This device has been applied for many years, and it has turned out to be extremely effective in the reduction of the number of Kemp's Ridley sea turtles drowning. This device got introduced because many deaths of Kemp's Ridley sea turtles were caused by drowning in shrimp net. Before this device got introduced, number of Kemp's Ridley sea turtles that were dying from drowning ranged between 500 to 5,000 per annum. For instance, it is estimated that the shrimping fleet in the region of Gulf of Mexico and south Atlantic, reported to having caught more than 40,000 Kemp's Ridley sea turtles and killing more than 10,000.
Reasons for Decline
Human activities have played a key role in the decline of Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. For a long time, people have been a serious threat to the lives of these turtles; they harvest the eggs of the turtle and killing the adults for meat. On the other hand, human development threatens the lives of these turtles; some of these activities include beach driving, coastal construction, beach front lighting, beach armoring and beach cleaning. All these activities were the serious threats that largely contributed to the decline of Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. This is because, they have adverse effects on both nesting turtles and the hatchlings. Additionally, the fact that these turtles nest in the same place may make them vulnerable to human or natural induced disasters, as well as diseases that can easily affect the entire population. Other than overharvesting for turtle eggs and products, the many deaths of Kemp's ridley turtle can also be caused by beach traffic, oil spills and beach propellers which may cause serious injuries on the turtle.
Threats in the water may comprise of entanglement in fishing gear like gillnets, fishing lines and shrimp trawls. Other threats may be pollution and trash as well as collisions with boats. Specifically, Shrimp trawl has adversely affected the population of these turtles. Surprisingly, balloons that people let go to the sea water are also a serious threat to the lives of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. These balloons can be a threat because float above the sea water before they burst and turtles can choke on any balloon that fall in the sea water. Trash thrown away at sea and oceans is another severe problem that affects the lives of Kemp’s ridley sea turtle. Some companies and people discharge their garbage in the sea, some of these materials may be toxic and harmful if consumed. Many turtles in the water mistake this debris with food and they consume materials that may be toxic and harmful to their health.
According to a research performed on Kemp’s ridley sea turtle through Postmortem examinations in 1980s, the results revealed that 60 turtles out of 111 turtles that got examined had consumed some harmful trash. According to this research, plastic materials were the most common type of debris consumed by those turtles, these included plastic bags, plastic pellets, balloons, Sty foam, fishing lines and ropes. On the other hand, even non plastic materials like aluminum foil, glass and tar got consumed by these turtles. Much of this trash comes from cargo ships, offshore oil rigs, boats, cargo ships, naval ships, research vessels among other vessels that operate in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite all these incidences, the Laws enacted in the late 1980s forbid the discarding of plastic materials, and it controls the distance from the shore that non- plastic wastes may be disposed.
Another key factor that may have contributed to the decline of these turtles is the ongoing British petroleum (BP) disasters along the Gulf of Mexico where they spew out a lot of oil from 2010 when it started its operations. Unfortunately, the feeding grounds of Kemp’s Ridley turtles are around the area of BP oil spill. The oil spills contaminate the water making it harmful for the consumption of marine animals such as Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle. BP oil spill has worsened the situation because the water becomes unsafe for consumption, causing many deaths of Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles. This has been one of the key factors that have led to the decline of turtles in the Gulf of Mexico.
The oil spill harms the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle in various ways, for example, the mature females on the beach cannot nest on oiled beach. Also, if the turtle approaches the oiled beaches can make it coated in oil. Unfortunately, the BP oil spill has already spread up to the Gulf coastlines and islands. This endangers the hatching progress by turtles and other marine animals. Even if, the Kemp Ridley’s sea turtles survive and hatch, researchers have found out that exposure to oil spill results to the development of various deformities. On the hand, reports from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) state that if Kemp Ridley’s sea turtles get exposed to the oil spill in the last half of the incubation time may not hatch (http://oilspillwildlife.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=51).
The main reason as to why the oil spill leads to the decline of Kemp Ridley’s sea turtles is because when these turtles come into contact with the oil, they may become damaged physically. When a situation like this arises, these turtles can experience intestinal complications as well as maintaining resilience in the water. This happens because oil contains toxic substances and chemicals that harm the life of marine animals. This has been a key contributing to the decline in the population of Kemp Ridley’s sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico.
Efforts to reduce Kemp’s ridley sea turtles endangerment
In 1970, The Kemp’s ridley sea turtles got listed as one of the endangered animal in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the US. This law prohibits any person to kill, disturb or collect eggs of this sea turtle. Despite the fact that the population of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles seems to recover, they are still regarded as highly endangered. As a result of this, both US and Mexico governments work together to protect and recover this species on the nesting beaches as well as the entire marine environment. Enforcement officers in Mexico ensure that nesting females and their nest get protection from people who may attempt to poach the turtles or collect their eggs. Other than nesting beach protection, the cooperation between United States and Mexico government also participated in the process of incubation of Kemp’s ridley sea turtle eggs. Since 1978, the United States Fish and Wildlife service has continued to offer support at the nesting beach. The ongoing assistance may be extremely vital in ensuring long-term protection of the greatest nesting beach, including the protection of mature turtles as well the survival of hatchlings.
As a result of this threat, federal and state governments in the United States have spent substantial funds and time in promoting the use of TEDs, hoping that all shrimpers will accept to use this device voluntarily. In addition, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) endeavors to reduce the threats that pose the lives of these turtles in the danger. In both Mexico and US, the regulations require shrimp fishermen to use Excluder Devices (TED’s) in shrimp trawls, which enable Kemp’s ridley sea turtles to escape from the net whenever they get caught. The two governments hoped that the use of this TED’s would significantly reduce many deaths of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles related to net entanglement. In addition, Wildlife Department and Texas parks revised their management plan on shrimp fishery in the year 2000; in order to improve the survival of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles though a reduction in the death of turtles that occurs due to net entanglement.
Despite the government’s commitment to reduce the deaths of Kemp's Ridley sea turtles, this regulation received a lot of criticism from the shrimping industry. U.S. federal regulations made use of TEDs mandatory to all shrimp trawlers that operated in U.S. waters, unfortunately, conformity remains a problem. Although TED regulations got strong opposition from people in the shrimping industry, there has been a slow recovery of the Kemp's Ridley sea turtles population since this regulation got implemented. In United States, these regulations came to effect in 1990, and three years later, these regulations got enforced in Mexico (http://www.conserveturtles.org/velador.php?page=velart42a).
In Mexico, the work of nest protection and education efforts gets a commendable support from the partnership that includes Texas Parks, Gladys Porter Zoo, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, seafood industry, Wildlife Department among others from both countries.
As one of the recovery efforts, U.S and Mexican governments hope that through education to children in schools, the message of conservation can be spread in the entire local community. In the United States, effective programs aimed at educating the public about the sea turtle conservation got established. These programs have been established through the combined efforts from various agencies, which include National Marine Fisheries Service, National Park Service, Wildlife Department, U.S. Fish, Wildlife Service and Texas Parks.
According to the two governments, comprehensive research is in progress to determine the most appropriate techniques which enables proper management of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. The greatest concerns consist of the process of identifying distribution habitat use for turtles at all life phases. Also, the study includes mating of these turtles, reproductive behaviors and migration routes.
In order to enhance the recovery program, about 2000 turtle eggs got transferred from Rancho Nuevo, Mexico which is the largest nesting beach to Padre Island National Seashore, in an attempt to set up a secondary breeding colony for Kemp’s ridley sea turtles species through “experimental imprinting.” Through this process, turtle eggs got incubated at Padre Island National Seashore by the National Park Service. After the eggs hatch, the hatchlings got transported to National Marine Fisheries Laboratory in Galveston. This agency held those hatchlings for a period of about 10 months before releasing them to the Gulf of Mexico. The main reason for this initiative is because the scientists hoped that the large population of turtles after “head starting” would lead to an increase in survival of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. Also, the scientists were optimistic that “imprinting” on Padre Island beaches would lead to the establishment of a nesting colony in future.
On the other hand, from1978 to 1992, some hatchlings got transferred directly to Mexico for head starting. In 1996, some turtles (head started turtles) nesting in the wild, surprisingly, most of the nests got found at Padre Island National Seashore. As a result of this program, Kemp’s ridley sea turtles both native and head started turtles are currently nesting there, and according to scientists, the search for nesting of Kemp’s ridley sea turtles in both Mexico and Texas are still in progress. According to researchers, in the second stage, Kemp’s ridley heads tart project focuses on providing concrete evidence on whether these turtles reproduce or not. This project has provided vital information on the behavior of Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and husbandry.