On Monday 16 July, the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge had its first hatching of the season! Our Kemp’s Ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) nest, which was laid back in May, surprised us on morning nesting patrol with dozen of fresh hatchling tracks headed from the nest down to the Gulf of Mexico. This was the first nest to hatch anywhere in Alabama this season – and Share the Beach is now anxiously awaiting the arrival of their first loggerhead (Caretta caretta) hatchlings! This comes as welcome news following the discovery of the dead Kemp’s Ridley adult on Saturday 14 July.
Kemp’s Ridleys are listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973. Following drastic population declines in the mid 20th Century, Kemp’s Ridleys were given protection throughout their range in several ways, including relocating nests from sites in Mexico to Texas. Roughly 2,000 eggs were moved per year from Rancho Nuevo, Mexico to Padre Island, Texas from 1978 to 1988 to attempt to rebuild this nesting site. Nesting is still primarily in the western Gulf of Mexico, but we do get a few nests in any given year here in Alabama. Though they do not nest in large numbers in Alabama, they are prevalent in nearshore waters where they feed on crabs and other crustaceans.
Kemp’s Ridleys typically nest early in the summer, laying an average of 100 ping-pong ball-sized eggs per nest 2 – 3 times per year. The eggs incubate for approximately 2 months, after which the hatchlings will head for the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It takes 10 – 12 years for Kemp’s Ridleys to reach sexual maturity. When full grown, these turtles weigh only about 100 lbs and are just over 2 feet long, making them the smallest sea turtle species. Survival to adulthood is very low in all sea turtle species, but hopefully at least one of these hatchlings will survive to return to our (ideally clean) beaches!
A nest excavation is scheduled for Thursday 19 July to collect productivity data such as the number of eggs laid, how many hatched, and at what development stage embryonic development stopped for eggs which did not hatch. This nest was also outfitted with a temperature sensor in the sand to monitor the incubating environment – the data from which will help describe possible temperature stresses experienced during incubation.
For additional information, check out …
U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service review of the Headstart program
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fact sheet