GULFPORT, MS (WNTZ) —  Kemp’s ridley sea turtle conservation is integral to Mississippi Aquarium’s mission, having rehabilitated and released more than 60 turtles into the Mississippi Sound since 2020. 

In recognition of its steadfast work with Kemp’s ridleys, the Aquarium was selected by NOAA Fisheries and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services as the recipient of one of 10 adult non-releasable Kemp’s ridley sea turtles. The turtles were flown by Turtles Fly Too in April 2022 to SeaWorld in Orlando, where they received expert care during a mandatory 90-day quarantine.

After the quarantine, the female sea turtle was flown by Turtles Fly Too to Mississippi Aquarium from Orlando. The Aquarium will house its new resident in Aquatic Wonders, its oceanic habitat. 

“Mississippi Aquarium is honored to be the recipient of a highly endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle,” said Mississippi Aquarium CEO and President Kurt Allen. “These turtles are native to the Mississippi Sound, and our guests now have the opportunity to see one in our main oceans habitat. We are very grateful to NOAA  and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services for recognizing Mississippi Aquarium as a leader in Kemp’s ridley sea turtle rehabilitation and for selecting us as one of only a few aquariums to receive one of these unique turtles.”

The turtles were hatched from eggs collected in the wild in 1979. In 1980, they were sent as hatchlings from NOAA’s Galveston Laboratory in Texas to the Cayman Turtle Centre as part of an experimental breeding program. At that time, the wild Kemp’s ridley population was at risk of functional extinction due to the hunting of adult turtles and eggs for food and bycatch in shrimp fisheries. The breeding program was discontinued decades ago as Kemp’s ridley population began growing due to international conservation efforts. 

The 10 turtles are the last of the original group from Galveston. NOAA and USFWS have determined that these turtles are unlikely to thrive in the wild due to the lengthy time spent outside of their natural range and habituation to humans. They have deemed the turtles non-releasable.