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Delta Journal
by Bob Thomas

Louisiana waters are host to at least occasional visits by all species of sea turtles that inhabit the Gulf of Mexico. Though our shores are a bit north of normal egg laying sites, occasional records exist for various species.

One of the most endangered forms is the Atlantic Ridley (Lepidochelys kempi), a grayish, rather small turtle with a rounded shell diameter of under 30 inches. Recent estimates place the total population of Atlantic Ridley’s between 1,000 and 4,000 individuals, but the species is considered the most abundant sea turtle in Louisiana coastal waters. There are numerous records of individuals along the coast, and they have been found in Lakes Borgne and Pontchartrain and in the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.

These sea turtles remain active during warm weather, feeding on crabs, jellyfish, and other marine life. During cold weather, they are known to burrow into the mud on the bottom, slow down their metabolism, and await a warming trend.

This species is most noted for its nesting during the daytime. On traditional nesting beaches in northern Mexico, they once arrived by the tens of thousands. These nesting assemblages are called “arribadas”, Spanish for “arrivals.” Unfortunately, it is now rare to find arribadas of much more than 100. Mating takes place offshore, and each female may nest three times each season, laying 100 or so eggs each time. Percy Viosca reported an Atlantic Ridley nest on the Chandeleur Islands.

One direct impact on Atlantic Ridley populations has been poaching by people on the nesting beaches. Locals ate the turtles and their eggs. There is currently serious concern that commercial fishing continues to adversely impact the populations.