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Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle

Lepidochelys kempii

Family: Cheloniidae

COSEWIC status:
  • Not Assessed
SARA status:
  • No Status
IUCN status:
  • Critically Endangered


The Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle is the smallest of all Sea Turtles, with a maximum carapace length of 76 cm. The greyish-green, “heart-shaped” carapace (top shell) is serrated at the back and is often wider than it is long in adult. Younger turtles have a pronounced knobby ridge running down the centre of the carapace, but these fade with age. The skin is grey but is lighter-coloured underneath and the plastron (bottom shell) is white. The head is relatively wide at the back and pointed at the front with a hooked parrot-like upper jaw. Males have a longer tail, a large, curved claw on their front flippers and a slightly concave plastron. Hatchlings have an average carapace length of about 5 cm and are dark grey to black with a light border on the shell and the flippers. Unlike the adults, hatchling’s carapaces are longer than they are wide and have three knobby ridges running from front to back.

Similar Species

In Atlantic Canada, the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle may be confused with the Leatherback or Loggerhead Sea Turtles; however, both of these species lack the pronounced hooked beak of the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle. The Leatherback Sea Turtle has a leathery shell with seven longitudinal ridges, while the Loggerhead Sea Turtle has pronounced reddish-brown colouration that is noticeably absent from the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle.


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Adult Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles are largely restricted to the Gulf of Mexico and the east coast of Florida, but juveniles have been found throughout a much larger portion of the Atlantic Ocean and area regularly found along southeastern coast of the United States. A handful of juveniles have been found in Atlantic Canada, but they are generally not considered to inhabit Canadian waters.


Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles are aquatic and inhabit shallow, near-shore marine environments. Adults are typically found in areas with a depth of less than 20 m during April through September and in waters that are less than 50 m deep throughout the rest of the year. Juveniles inhabit very shallow habitats (< 2 m) along the coast or in bays and lagoons. Females nest above the high hide tide line on sandy beaches. Almost all females of this species nest along a single beach in Rancho Nuevo, Tamaulipas, along the northeastern coast of Mexico.


Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles can migrate over 1,000 km between the nesting grounds and foraging areas, although many individuals forage in areas that are close to the nesting habitat. Females typically reproduce every 1–2 years and lay 1–4 clutches throughout the nesting season, spaced 20–28 days apart. Most nesting occurs from mid-April to Mid-July and, unlike many other species of Sea Turtle, females typically nest during the day. Females excavate a nest cavity and usually deposit 90–110 eggs. The eggs usually take just under 2 months to hatch, and the hatchlings emerge in the early morning. The sex of the offspring is temperature-depend; incubation temperatures of 28°C and lower produce males, temperatures of 31°C and higher produce only females, and intermediate temperatures produce both sexes. Females reach sexual maturity at 10–19 years of age. Maximum lifespan is unknown, but they can likely live for over 35 years. Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles primarily forage for a wide variety of invertebrates, such as crustaceans and aquatic insects, and they will also eat small algae and some plant material. Like other Sea Turtles, the Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle cannot retract its head or flippers into its shell.


The global population of Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles has declined dramatically from historic numbers due to a range of threats, including unsustainable harvest of its eggs, degradation of coastal habitats, by-catch and entanglement in commercial fishing gear, oil spills and other environmental pollution, as well as ingestion of plastic and other marine debris. Nest beach protection and head-starting programs have resulted in some population increases in recent times, but many of the above threats continue to take their toll. Climate change may also negatively affect sea turtles in several ways, including increased incidence of nesting beach erosion or shifts in sex ratio resulting from changes to nest incubation temperatures.

Additional Information About This Species In Canada