Julia Kinsolving Dec. 10, 2012

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Julia Kinsolving

Dec. 10, 2012

Endangered Species Content

Kemps Ridley Sea Turtle

  • What role does your species have in its ecosystem? Be in depth (How has it changed over time?)

Sea turtles are the most exciting sea creature that one can see at an aquarium or in its natural habitat. This remarkable species always seems to occupy a special spot in our minds from the stuffed turtle toys we loved as kids and then the unforgettable experiences from swimming with them in the vast oceans. Sea turtles inevitably bring emotions of freedom, elegance, and beauty to those who witness them. In marine biomes they maintain and ensure healthy and resilient oceans through providing a variety of purposes. For more than 150 million years, sea turtles have roamed the earth, although recently all seven species of sea turtle are endangered and the Kemps Ridley Sea Turtle has become the most critically endangered species of turtle. Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles have the most restricted range and restricted breeding range of any other species of sea turtle. The entire breeding female population nests in the wilderness of a small beach in Tamaulipas, Mexico called arribadas. This broad, white-sand beach is hundreds of miles long with low-amplitude tides that house the majority of Kemps Ridley Sea Turtles found in the world. In 1995, several Kemp’s Ridley turtles were held at the Cayman Island Turtle Farm. At the time, it was possible that these Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles might soon have been the only ones surviving on the planet. Due to this extremely restricted range, the fate of Kemps Ridley Sea Turtles is diminishing causing detrimental consequences to the ecosystem they once thrived in. Human activities are the major threat of this endangered species, the most harmful being commercial fishing, shrimp trawling, habitat degradation and destruction, climate change, and human-caused threats. Humans have unarguably accelerated the background extinction of this species towards the tipping point. (Wilson, Miller, Allison, Magliocca, 2012) This results in an overall loss of biodiversity; genetic, species, ecological, ecosystem, and functional. The population is so low that there is a low genetic variability, which, to their disadvantage, limits their variety of genes and biological evolution. Having a very small population could result in inbreeding, which then could ultimately lead to local extinction of this renowned species of sea turtle in the Gulf of Mexico.

According to a 1947 documentary filmed in Mexico at their primary nesting site, the population of Kemps Ridley was estimated at 42,000 Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles in a single day. Since then the population has declined considerably to a few thousand due to major human activities such as shrimp trawling in the 1980’s, which became the number one cause of Kemps Ridley Sea Turtle mortality. People in the black market contributed negatively to this sharp decline; people illegally slaughtered sea turtles to make jewelry and drums and to eat their prized eggs and meat. They are R-strategists that produce large numbers of small and short-lived offspring. However between the 1940’s and 1960’s the population of Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles crashed as people harvested truckloads of eggs and sold them in small towns in Texas and Mexico. And being R-strategists was to their extreme disadvantage when the thousands of eggs were harvested just as a food source to the locals. It was believed that local villagers took approximately 60% of all the eggs nested by Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles as a source of food in a small time period that lessened their constancy. Because sea turtles have an early loss survivorship curve it makes them extremely vulnerable to outside influences such as this illegal action of taking thousands of eggs from the most endangered sea turtle species worldwide. (Magnusion, 1990)

These and other issues with sea turtles didn’t even come to peoples’ attention until the 2012 Great BP (British Petroleum) Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico. This point pollution incident was the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry releasing 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into almost 68,000 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico. People watched as they burned away the oil on the surface completely oblivious of the fact that they were scorching living sea turtles just beneath the surface. It was then that they recognized their lifestyles had a direct impact on sea turtles. That was the real cost of oil to heat our homes and fuel our cars just for the effort to save Kemps Ridleys in Mexico went to naught. (2012, How Does the BP Oil Spill Impact Wildlife and Habitat?)

The Kemps Ridley Sea Turtles have vitally important ecological values and ecological niches in the ecosystem including maintaining healthy seagrass beds, providing key habitat for other marine life, and helping balance marine food webs and facilitating nutrient cycling from water to land. When Kemps Ridley Sea Turtles occasionally eat sargassum they increase the productivity and nutrient of the plant. They also manage the populations of crabs, fish, jellyfish, mollusks and other crustaceans. Kemps Ridley eggs supply a concentrated source of high-quality nutrients in dune ecosystems such as nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium. These fundamental nutrients allow for the growth of vegetation and the stabilization of the dunes from the roots. The eggs and vegetation also provide a food source for predators, such as coyotes, thus topping off the food pyramid. Kemps Ridleys Sea Turtles offer habitat for other marine life such as barnacles, algae and other similar organisms on by carrying them on their shells. (Wilson, Miller, Allison, Magliocca, 2012) However their low biotic potential decreases their likelihood of the survival of the species because of restricted range, low genetic variability, and early loss survivorship. Other environmental resistances also affect the population of Kemp’s Ridleys such as limiting factors. Some predators that adult Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles have include sharks and other large fishes. However more predators prey on the juvenile turtles as eggs or when they are making their way out to sea. At that point in their lifespan the baby turtles are extremely vulnerable because they have just hatched and their shell is much too soft to protect them from the sharp teeth of foxes, shore birds, weasels, cats, dogs, raccoons, and crabs.

Living in their restricted range and suffering habitat degradation has brought the Kemps Ridley Sea Turtle to the brink of extinction. The Kemps Ridley Sea Turtle is well on its way to becoming ecologically extinct or having such a small population that it’s unable to perform its ecological role. And then following ecological extinction is physical extinction. As famous influential conservationist Aldo Leopold said, “To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.” (Wilson, Miller, Allison, Magliocca, 2012) Applying the quote simply ensures the precautionary principle and survival of this key species in order to maintain a healthy and resilient ocean.

  • What if any efforts are being made to preserve your species OUTSIDE of its natural habitat?

Throughout their lives, Kemps Ridleys are susceptible to human-caused mortality from a variety of habitat degradation and destruction in inshore and outshore waters. Their inertia is diminishing thus causing a greater decline in their ability to suffer such disturbances. So, to aid the issue, efforts are being made outside of its natural habitat. First off the Mexican government has made rebounding efforts to drastically boost the number of Kemps Ridleys at sea through stricter patrolling. By keeping an eye out for the safe trip of the baby Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles to sea, conservationists are building up the population of this once ecologically extinct sea turtle. If the issue worsens, they have then focused their efforts on transporting the young eggs to a protected hatchery where it is safe from human and canine predators. (Pritchard, 1973) This technique, called head starting and captive breeding, enables an experimental procedure to take place as well by studying the hatchlings in captivity that are cared for at least several months to increase the juvenile population by reducing hatchling mortality. Also known as egg pulling, scientists collect wild eggs laid by critically endangered species. This study allows scientists to learn more about the Kemps Ridley and their specific nesting requirements and behaviors. (Magnusion, 1990)

A different approach to increase protection of the nesting adults, eggs, and hatchlings is by positioning Turtle Excluder Devices (TED’s) in nets. TED’s are specialized devices that allow captured sea turtles to escape when caught in a fisherman’s net. Up until TED’s were developed by fisherman Sinkey Boone in the 1970’s, turtles were caught and most likely killed in shrimp trawls. Shrimp trawls were originally made out of gill nets which are finely twined nets specifically to catch very small shrimp. Unfortunately these nets easily snag turtles after getting their flippers caught and tangled in. And unless the turtle was near the surface or lucky enough to become entangled just before the net is hoisted, it would’ve already died. Around the 1980’s these gill nets were set in the open Pacific for hundreds of miles long and deep. This caused a major decrease in Kemps Ridley population in which the head start technique began to be adopted to bring the most endangered turtle species back. (Spotila, 2011)

  • What else could/should have been done in your opinion?

A major reason as to why adequate protection of the endangered species, Kemps Ridley Sea Turtle, is lacking is because of the deficient amount of government funding. So an increase in government funding for the Endangered Species Act would greatly improve the protection conditions of the Kemps Ridley and other endangered species. (Colloff-Bennett, 2012)

Other ways to increase protection over the few beaches that arribadas are found are by preventing artificial lighting, reducing beach cleaning, and pedestrian vehicular traffic. Artificial lighting presents a false image to baby sea turtles who are accustomed to the reflection of the moon on the water. Beach cleanings allow the use of toxic chemicals such as pesticides on the beach. And finally pedestrian and vehicular traffic disturb the eggs underground possibly crushing them. Because of the lack of funding these activities occurred thus forcing Kemps Ridley to go into captive breeding until the population rebounds back up to healthy numbers. (Pritchard, 1973)

The Gulf of Mexico is found to be an area of high density oil extraction with occasional low-level spills. But when the BP Oil Spill occurred, it brought to peoples’ attention of the direct harm on these turtles. To solve this problem, the oil industry needs to realize their harmful effects on the Kemps Ridleys especially after the BP Oil Spill incident. (Colloff-Bennett, 2012)

Another issue with the Gulf of Mexico is the large amount of debris floating in the water. This injurious debris has been found to be ingested in the sea turtle and or entangles the sea turtle. To fix this, people need to become more aware of the trash they throw on the ground that is swept out to the gulf. (2012, Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle) All in all the simplest way to save the Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle is to save its habitat.

  • From an environmental perspective, why should your animal be saved? Discuss the local, domestic, and global impact if you animal becomes extinct.

The local and domestic impact if the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle were to become extinct would be very destructive. However globally, if they were to become extinct, it would be to a lesser extent because of their extremely restricted range. Their important role in maintaining healthy and resilient oceans are vital to the rest of the oceans ecosystems. Their instrumental values and use values of providing these ecological services and benefiting us in the form of economic and ecological services, scientific information, and continuation of such uses for the future is of the most important concerns of this endangered species. If they were to become extinct they would disturb the natural balance that has existed for millions of years. For example, we’d be left with the issue of overgrowing plant species on the seabed. This overgrowth of the plant species or the producers would directly affect the rest of the nutrient cycling in the ecosystem. (Reina, 2012) These turtles provide species diversity, which is necessary in order to increase the sustainability of the ecosystem. (Miller, 2011)

Sea beaches and dune systems are unable to hold nutrition. So vegetation does not grow well in these types of systems. However Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles provide nutrition to these systems through their unhatched eggs and hatchlings that are not successful in reaching the water. Each turtle lays almost 100 eggs allowing for a large percentage of the eggs to be the source of nutrition in the beaches and dunes. The more nutrition the more vegetation grows in dunes. More vegetation allows healthier dunes by grabbing the sand firmly and preventing erosion. But as the numbers of sea turtles are decreasing day by day, this will lead to the failure of the whole ecosystem. (Saber, 2011)

The majority of Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles are found off the coast of Mexico. Because of their highly restricted range, the Kemp’s Ridleys are treasured locally among the community of Mexico. Their arrival or as they call it, arribada, reminds them of how unique these sea turtles are compared to the others; they are the smallest species of sea turtle and the only sea turtle species to lay eggs in broad daylight. These sea turtles protect humans from the attack of deadly box jellyfish by eating them. (Saber, 2011) Since the BP Oil Spill, Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles have dwindled in numbers. With help from the Mexican authorities, conservationists, and local fisherman, the Kemps Ridley Sea Turtle has started their success story, which, still in the making, has been the direct result thanks to intensive conservation efforts of this species, from egg to adulthood in order to save this endangered species. In order to save the species we must save its habitat and thus recognize the species intrinsic value of valuing Kemp’s Ridleys, its habitat, ecosystem, and earths biodiversity based on its sole existence regardless of whether it has many uses for humans. We must consider the nonuse value of this spectacular sea turtle as well; its aesthetic value, existence value, and its bequest value. By appreciating the Kemps Ridley Sea Turtle for its beauty, elegance, and satisfaction of its existence, we will be able to get one step closer towards saving this truly miraculous species. (Crowder, 2011)


Crowder, Larry. Heppell, Selina. The Decline and Rise of a Sea Turtle: How Kemp’s Ridleys are Recovering in the Gulf of Mexico. (2011) Retrieved December 9, 2012 from The Solutions Journal. http://www.thesolutionsjournal.com/node/859

Colloff-Bennett, Tamara. Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle. (2012) Retrieved December 9, 2012 from Endangered Species Coalition Website: http://oilspillwildlife.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=51

(2012) How Does the BP Oil Spill Impact Wildlife and Habitat? Retrieved December 9, 2012 from National Wildlife Federation Website: http://www.nwf.org/What-We-Do/Protect-Habitat/Gulf-Restoration/Oil-Spill/Effects-on-Wildlife.aspx

(2012) Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle; Lepidochelys kempii. Retrieved December 9, 2012 from MarinBio Website: http://marinebio.org/species.asp?id=317#.UMUCp4M728A

(2006) Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Recovery Plan. Retrieved December 27, 2012 from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. http://www.fws.gov/kempsridley/index.html

Magnusion, J. (1990) Decline of the Sea Turtles. Committee of Sea Turtle Conservation, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C

Miller, Tyler G. (2011) Living in the Environment.

Pritchard, P.C.H and Márquez, M.R. (1973) Kemp’s Ridley Turtle or Atlantic Ridley. Morges, Switzerland: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

Reina, Richard. Ocean Life. (2012) Retrieved December 9, 2012 from Scholastic Inc. Website: http://teacher.scholastic.com/activities/explorer/oceanlife/main.asp?article=interview_reina&template=meet_explorer

Spotila, R. James. (2011) Saving Sea Turtles. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore

Wilson, E.G., Miller, K.L., Allison, D., Magliocca, M. Retrieved November 25, 2012 from Oceana Website: http://oceana.org/sites/default/files/reports/Why_Healthy_Oceans_Need_Sea_Turtles.pdf

(2011) Why Care About Sea Turtles? Retrieved January 4, 2012 from Sea Turtle Conservancy Website: http://www.conserveturtles.org/seaturtleinformation.php?page=whycareaboutseaturtles

Saber, Ghulam. Importance of Sea Turtles to Humans. (2011) Retrieved January 4, 2013 from EzineArticles Website: http://ezinearticles.com/?Importance-of-Sea-Turtles-to-Humans&id=5990198


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