Texas State Sea Turtle

Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle

Texas State Sea Turtle: Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle

(Lepidochelys kempii)

Adopted in May 10, 2013.

Kemp's ridley sea turtle became the official state sea turtle of Texas when Governor James Richard "Rick" Perry signed House Concurrent Resolution No. 31 on May 10, 2013.

Oppe Elementary School, Galveston, is a magnet campus of Coastal Studies. Here, 24 fourth-graders, guided by science teacher Katie Blaser decided to embark upon a quest to name the Kemp's ridley sea turtle the official sea turtle of the State of Texas. The "Green Team," an after-school environmental group generally involved itself with community recycling drives and beach cleanup projects. Now, they decided that the endangered sea turtle needed their attention.

State Representative Craig Eiland, of Galveston, visited the Oppe Elementary fourth-graders and offered a primer on how to craft a bill and how to submit it to the Texas Legislature.

On January 23, 2013, Rep. Eiland filed House Concurrent Resolution No. 31 on behalf of the "Green Team."

Texas State Sea Turtle: Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle

Texas State Sea Turtle: Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle

Of the five sea turtle species that roam the Gulf of Mexico, the Kemp's ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) is the smallest with an average length of 23 to 27.5 inches (58.5 to 70 cm) and average weight of 100 pounds (45 kg). The Kemp's ridley is the only sea turtle with an almost circular upper shell. The young are dark gray in color but change as they mature. Adults are olive green above and yellow below.

  • Appearance:  grayish-green, nearly circular, top shell with a pale yellowish bottom shell
  • Diet: Their diet consists mostly of crabs; also shrimp, snails, clams, jellyfish, sea stars, and fish.
  • Habitat: They prefer open ocean and gulf waters with the females only coming ashore to lay eggs in beach sand. Young Kemp's Ridley sea turtles float on large mats of sargassum (a type of brown algae) in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.
  • Range: Kemp's ridley sea turtles are found in the coastal waters and bays of the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean
  • Predators:  Predators of the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle include humans (hunting, boat propellers, nets, and refuse), followed by natural predation by shore birds, sharks and other sea animals. Individuals surviving to adulthood may live 30 years and possibly up to 50 years
  • Nesting: Historic nesting records range from Mustang Island, Texas in the north to Veracruz, Mexico in the south. Most nesting occurs in Mexico. The main nesting beach is a 16-mile stretch of beach near the village of Rancho Nuevo in Tamaulipas, Mexico. Lesser amounts of nesting also occur at adjacent beaches in Tamaulipas and in Veracruz, Mexico. In the U.S., the majority of nesting occurs in Texas. More records have and continue to be from Padre Island National Seashore than any other location in the U.S. Nests have also been documented in North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama; the first of these was recorded in the late 1980s.
  • Life History: Kemp's ridley turtles reach maturity at 10-15 years of age. On average every two years, females come ashore to lay their eggs. The males spend their entire lives at sea once they have hatched. The group of eggs laid by one mother at one time is referred to as a "clutch". During each nesting season, females lay from one to four clutches of eggs (average 2.5-3.0). One clutch can have from 50 to 130 eggs. Follow these links to find more details on habits of nesting Kemp's ridley turtles and habits of emerging Kemp's ridley hatchlings.
  • Endangered: Kemp's ridley is the most endangered species of sea turtle. The Kemp's ridley population underwent a devastating decline in the mid-1900's, primarily due to over-harvest of eggs and loss of juveniles and adults due to commercial fishing. Biologists did not know the location of the main Kemp's ridley nesting beach in Mexico until the early 1960's, when a film was discovered that showed an estimated 40,000 females nesting at Rancho Nuevo on one day. Biologists did not initiate protection efforts at Rancho Nuevo until the mid-1960s. Despite protection efforts by the Mexican government, the population continued to decline.

Texas House Concurrent Resolution 31

H.C.R. No. 31


WHEREAS, The State of Texas traditionally has recognized a variety of official symbols as tangible representations of the proud character and colorful heritage of the Lone Star State; and

WHEREAS, Select members of the animal kingdom, including the longhorn, the armadillo, and the Texas horned lizard, are among the species that have been formally recognized, and their designation has served to draw attention to the great biological diversity of the state's landscape and to highlight creatures who are unique to or closely identified with the state; and

WHEREAS, An especially rich natural environment is found along the Texas Gulf Coast, and of the many distinctive species found in that region, the Kemp's ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) is particularly deserving of recognition; and

WHEREAS, Identifiable by its nearly circular upper shell, the Kemp's ridley makes its home primarily in the Gulf of Mexico, though it is also found in the Atlantic Ocean; after hatching, the male turtles spend their entire lives at sea; the females come ashore only to lay eggs, and they do so in large, synchronized groups, an extraordinary phenomenon known in Spanish as arribada, meaning "arrival"; while they are the smallest of the eight types of sea turtles in the world, they can still weigh up to 100 pounds and grow to 2.5 feet in length; and

WHEREAS, This remarkable creature is part of an inspiring conservation success story; following an alarming population decline that began in the 1940s, the Kemp's ridley teetered on the brink of extinction and was placed on the Endangered Species List in 1970; it has made a heroic recovery, however, as a result of a collaborative protection program begun in 1978 by the United States and Mexico; this initiative has helped implement the use of turtle excluder devices by the commercial shrimp fleet, which allow sea turtles to escape the trawling nets that were causing large numbers of deaths; another important development has been the establishment of a secondary nesting colony at Padre Island National Seashore in Texas, which supplements the main nesting site in Mexico; as of 2012, more than 100 turtle nests were identified at the national seashore, with another 100 in other Texas coastal areas; and

WHEREAS, A number of organizations and universities in the state have taken part in the campaign to safeguard the turtles, with Texas A&M University at Galveston, The University of Texas Marine Science Institute, and the National Marine Fisheries Service being central players in the initiative; and

WHEREAS, Once the most imperiled of all sea turtles, the Kemp's ridley is today becoming a more common resident of the Gulf Coast waters; its comeback is a testament to its resilience and to the admirable work of those Texans who have aided its recovery, and this noble animal is indeed a fitting symbol of the Lone Star State; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the 83rd Legislature of the State of Texas hereby designate the Kemp's ridley sea turtle as the official State Sea Turtle of Texas.

Taxonomic Hierarchy: Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtle

Kingdom: Animalia - animals
Phylum: Chordata - chordates
Class: Reptilia
Order: Testudines
Family: Cheloniidae
Genus: Lepidochelys
Species: L. kempii

State Reptiles
State Reptiles
Twenty-six U.S. states have named an official state reptile.