CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. --
The rarest and most endangered sea turtle in the world was discovered nesting on the beaches of CCAFS for the first time recorded May 14, 2015, and then again May 28, 2015. Following an incubation period of approximately two months, both nests hatched, were excavated, or carefully uncovered, after a period of three days and the results were recorded.
The Kemp's ridley is one of the smallest sea turtles, with adults growing to about two feet in length and weighing up to about 100 pounds, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Its numbers have been declining since 1947, when there was an estimated 40,000 nesting females in a single arribada--a mass nesting of turtles occurring at one time--and only 20,507 total nests, a single female typically lays more than one nest, in 2011.
"I am incredibly happy to report that both Kemp's ridley nests have hatched and both were incredibly successful," said Angy Chambers, 45th Civil Engineer Squadron biological scientist. "Martha and I have been keeping a close eye on both nests during their incubation period," said Chambers about Martha Carroll, also of the 45th SW CES, biological scientist.
The first nest hatched July 11, 2015, 58 days after being deposited. This nest produced 99 hatchlings, with every egg except one successfully hatching, resulting in a 99 percent hatch success rate. Hatch rates are highly variable between different species of sea turtles, on different beaches, and from one year to the next.
At CCAFS and Patrick Air Force Base, the hatch rate averages 50-70 percent for Loggerhead sea turtles, the most common nesting species, according to Chambers.
The second nest hatched on July 21, 2015, 54 days after being deposited. This nest produced 72 hatchlings, with only four eggs left unhatched, resulting in a 95 percent hatch success rate.
Combined, these nests resulted in more than 160 Kemp's ridley hatchlings leaving the CCAFS beach and making their way into their ocean habitat.
"We are incredibly proud of the success of both of these nests and although very few hatchlings survive to adulthood, we are hopeful that at least one of them will return to nest at the CCAFS beach in the future," said Carroll. Kemp's ridley are believed to reach maturity at 12 years, and it is common for them to return to their birth beach to nest, according to Carroll.
In addition to Kemp's ridley, the 45th SW biologists have been busy tracking three other species of nesting sea turtles. As of July 31, 2015, CCAFS has had a total of 2,179 Loggerhead sea turtle nests, 201 Green sea turtle nests, and nine Leatherback sea turtle nests. PAFB had a total of 913 Loggerhead nests, 53 Green nests, and one Leatherback nest.
CCAFS is on track to have a record breaking Green sea turtle year. The previous record was 335 nests in 2013. With almost two months left of the nesting season, the 45 SW biologists are optimistic that number will surpass this year.
For more information on Kemp's ridley sea turtles, go to: http://www.conserveturtles.org/pdf/education/KempsQuickFactSheet.pdf