Help the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle

Celebrate National Estuaries Week and Help the Wildlife that Live There Today

National Estuaries Week (September 17-24) is a week to celebrate estuaries and the unique wildlife – like the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle – that depend on them. Estuaries are formed where rivers flow into the sea and provide habitat for the vast majority of America’s commercial and recreational fish. They also act as important storm buffers to protect inland areas from storms.

One species that profits from the wide range of benefits estuaries have to offer is the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle, found primarily in the Gulf of Mexico. The Kemp’s ridley is the world’s smallest sea turtle, and also the most endangered sea turtle species.

The nesting procession of these sea turtles is called an arribada (arrival), and females return to nest on the same beach where they themselves were hatched. Photo from NPS

These little guys are only about 2 feet in shell length and weigh up to 100 pounds. They generally feast on a salty smorgasbord of crabs as well as other shellfish, some finfish and even jellyfish. As adults, these sea turtles are often in deeper waters, but juvenile Kemp’s ridleys can often be found in the Gulf’s estuaries. This may be because one of their favorite foods – blue crabs – spend portions of their life cycles in estuaries as well.

Like most wildlife in the Gulf, however, the Kemp’s ridley has been in trouble since the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Researchers found that as many as 20 percent of Kemp’s ridley adult females were killed during the spill. There are also indications that the sea turtle’s feeding patterns may have changed in the aftermath of the disaster. Since 2010, nest counts have been significantly below expectations, a disturbing trend for a species already so threatened.

In the northern Gulf, restoration projects that rebuild and improve the health of estuaries and wetlands may also benefit the Kemp's ridley by increasing blue crab populations, a typical food source for these turtles.

In the northern Gulf, restoration projects that rebuild and improve the health of estuaries and wetlands may also benefit the Kemp’s ridley by increasing blue crab populations, a typical food source for these turtles. Photo from NPS

After the Deepwater Horizon disaster, Congress created the RESTORE Council, a federal-state body responsible for developing a Comprehensive Plan to guide restoration efforts in the Gulf. The Council recently published an important update to its comprehensive plan which will guide restoration investments for years to come. This update expresses a commitment to large-scale projects that benefit the health of the Gulf ecosystem as a whole, and to a more robust science-based review of projects.

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In 1947, an estimated 42,000 Kemp’s ridleys nested during a single day, though populations have since seen a dramatic decrease. Photo from NPS

Since the Comprehensive Plan directs how the RESTORE Council will administer over $3 billion in restoration efforts, it is crucial that this plan be as strong as possible to ensure the best investments are made to improve the health of the Gulf as a whole for wildlife.

Take action now to help Kemp’s ridley sea turtles and other wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico. Tell the RESTORE Council to help wildlife by making improvements to the Comprehensive Plan. What better way to celebrate National Estuaries Week?

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