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Olive Ridley Sea Turtle

Lepidochelys olivacea

Photo: Olive ridley sea turtle

Photo: Olive ridley sea turtle (View larger version)

Photograph by Bill Curtsinger

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The olive ridley turtle is named for the generally greenish color of its skin and shell, or carapace. It is closely related to the Kemp’s ridley, with the primary distinction being that olive ridleys are found only in warmer waters, including the southern Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Olive and Kemp’s ridleys are the smallest of the sea turtles, weighing up to 100 pounds (45 kilograms) and reaching only about 2 feet (65 centimeters) in shell length. The olive ridley has a slightly smaller head and smaller shell than the Kemp’s.

These turtles are solitary, preferring the open ocean. They migrate hundreds or even thousands of miles every year, and come together as a group only once a year for the arribada, when females return to the beaches where they hatched and lumber onshore, sometimes in the thousands, to nest.

Olive ridleys have nesting sites all over the world, on tropical and subtropical beaches. During nesting, they use the wind and the tide to help them reach the beach. Females lay about a hundred eggs, but may nest up to three times a year. The nesting season is from June to December.

The olive ridley is mostly carnivorous, feeding on such creatures as jellyfish, snails, crabs, and shrimp. They will occasionally eat algae and seaweed as well. Hatchlings, most of which perish before reaching the ocean, are preyed on by crabs, raccoons, pigs, snakes, and birds, among others. Adults are often taken by sharks.

Though the olive ridley is widely considered the most abundant of the marine turtles, by all estimates, it is in trouble. Rough estimates put the worldwide population of nesting females at about 800,000, but its numbers, particularly in the western Atlantic, have declined precipitously. The United States lists the western Atlantic population of olive ridleys as endangered and all other populations as threatened.

Many governments have protections for olive ridleys, but still, eggs are taken and nesting females are slaughtered for their meat and skin. Fishing nets also take a large toll, frequently snagging and drowning these turtles.

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