Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles on the Rise

Kemp"s Ridley"s sea turtles have returned from the brink of extinction and now number in the tens of thousands.©

Eagles, wolves and grizzly bears aren’t the only American wildlife species coming back from the brink of extinction these days. It seems that Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles, the smallest and most endangered of the sea turtles nesting on American shorelines, have made their own astounding comeback thanks to a unique and ongoing partnership between biologists, regulatory entities, environmentalists and fishermen. Originally added to the Endangered Species List in 1970 when researchers could only confirm a few hundred nest sites, Kemp’s Ridleys now number in the tens of thousands.

Key to the restoration plan was the establishment of a turtle camp in Tepehuajes, Mexico. Biologists there raise hatchling turtles in captivity and release them into the Gulf of Mexico, when they can fend for themselves. Gulf shrimpers, both Mexican and American, played an active role in the restoration efforts, even funding the creation of the turtle camp.

"The Kemp’s Ridley project is an example of the restoration of an endangered species program that’s worked very well," says Les Hodgson, a shrimp wholesaler in Brownsville, Texas who has led the shrimping industry’s involvement in the restoration work. "And the health of the marine environment—which our shrimpers rely on—is dependent on the health of the species. It has a ripple effect. Since our living is derived from the Gulf of Mexico, it’s in our best interest not to lose the Kemp’s Ridley turtle."

But threatened turtles still have many obstacles to overcome in Mexico. In late August, Mexican police seized 57,000 eggs of endangered turtles from smugglers in the southern state of Oaxaca. Many of the eggs were from olive ridley turtles, listed as endangered by the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Sources: Ridley Turtles; Sea Turtles