Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) Nesting on the Texas Coast: Geographic, Temporal, and Demographic Trends Through 2014
Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) is the world’s most endangered sea turtle species, and nests primarily on the Gulf of Mexico coast in Mexico. In 1978, a binational project was initiated to form a secondary nesting colony of this species in south Texas at Padre Island National Seashore (PAIS), as a safeguard against extinction. During 1978–2014, we documented 1,667 Kemp’s ridley nests in Texas, with 56% found at PAIS. Most nests (89%) found in south Texas were from wild-stock turtles; south Texas is the northern extent of the documented historic nesting range for the species. We documented nesting in north Texas starting in 2002, and most nests (53%) found there were from turtles that had been head-started (reared in captivity for 9–11 mo), and released off the Texas coast as yearlings. Kemp’s ridley nesting increased in Texas during the mid-1990s through 2009, before annual nest numbers dropped in 2010, rebounded and plateaued in 2011 and 2012, and then decreased again in 2013 and 2014. Annual numbers of nests found in Texas and Mexico followed similar trends and were correlated (R2 1⁄4 0.95). We examined nesting turtles for presence of tags at 55% of the nests located in Texas. Of the Kemp’s ridleys we examined during 2000–14, the annual percentage of apparent neophytes decreased and the annual percentage of remigrants increased over time. Mean annual remigration intervals of Kemp’s ridleys increased steadily from 1.9 yr in 2008 to 3.3 yr in 2014. These changes in demographic parameters are critical to understanding the recent fluctuation in the number of nesting Kemps ridleys and will be used in population models to investigate possible causes of the recent and sudden decline of nesting Kemp’s ridleys in Texas and Mexico.