As part of our mission of sea turtle conservation, Sea Turtle, Inc. administers nesting sea turtle patrols on the beaches of South Padre Island & Boca Chica. The primary sea turtle that nests on these beaches is the Kemp's ridley. During nesting season, specially trained volunteers and interns search our beaches for nesting female sea turtles and their tracks. This allows us to find the nests and relocate them to a safe location. Sea turtle nests are protected through spring/summer incubation period.
The nesting season for the Kemp’s is from April – August of each year. They are the only sea turtle which routinely nests in the daytime. They also tend to nest in large nesting aggregations called "arribadas." Their nesting range is from Galveston, Texas to Tamaulipas, Mexico, with the majority of the population (about 95%) nesting in Rancho Nuevo, Mexico. The largest recorded nesting "arribada" was captured in a film from 1947 at Rancho Nuevo beach. In this film it was approximated that 40,000 turtles came ashore to nest. Today such large aggregations do not occur due to the near extinction of this species. From the 1940’s-1970’s poaching of the nesting turtles and their eggs decimated the population, and female population numbers dropped to below 500 sea turtles. The Kemp’s ridley received federal protection in 1977 under the CITES act.
Female sea turtles leave the water and crawl to soft sand to lay their eggs. They dig a hole in the sand with their back flippers and deposit eggs from their cloaca. For Kemp's ridleys, the average clutch size is 100 eggs. Sea turtle eggs are perfectly round in shape and have a leathery shell. The Kemp’s eggs are about the size of a ping pong ball. Nesting females will on average lay 2-3 clutches per season.When nests are located on South Padre Island, the eggs are relocated to a safe, enclosed area called a corral. Corrals keep nests safe by keeping predators and unauthorized humans away from the nest cavity. Turtle eggs are only relocated by trained and permitted sea turtle staff.
The incubation period for a nest ranges from 48 to 62 days, depending on air temperature. The temperature within the nest will affect the sex ratio of the nest. Incubation temperatures above 29.5 degrees Celsius tend to produce female offspring and the opposite will produce males. Lower spring incubation temperatures, for example, would tend to produce a large proportion of male babies. When a hatchling completes incubation, it uses a small egg tooth to break out of its leathery egg. Hatchlings are born with small yolk sacs that they must full absorb before crawling out to see. It often takes a baby sea turtle about 48-72 hours to make it to the ocean after it leaves the egg. When the majority of the hatchlings are ready to go, the nests begins a in which they get a burst of energy to help them crawl out of their nest and make it down to the water. This typically happens at nightfall. Sea Turtle, Inc. interns have the important job of staying up with the nests all night long to wait for this event. Once the babies begin to crawl out, we collect them and their nest contents for processing at our facility. After processing, the hatchlings are released to the beach to crawl down to the water. Depending on the time of emergence, these releases can be open to the public. Check out our Hatchling Releases page for more information
Today, after almost 40 years of efforts by the Mexican and Texas goverments the Kemp’s is on the road to recovery. In 2011, a large arribada occurred in Rancho Nuevo with an estimated 7,000 Kemp's ridleys coming ashore to nest. In 2012, South Padre Island set a record of 69 Kemp's ridley nest in one nesting season and the state of Texas also had a record breaking year. These numbers give our organization hope that continued efforts to protect these turtles could save the species. If you would like to support these efforts, please visit our Adoptions page and consider adopting a nest or hatchling.