ABSTRACT: We document a tendency for published estimates of population size in sea turtles to be increasing rather than decreasing across the globe. To examine the population status of the seven species of sea turtle globally, we obtained 299 time series of annual nesting abundance with a total of 4417 annual estimates. The time series ranged in length from 6 to 47 years (mean, 16.2 years). When levels of abundance were summed within regional management units (RMUs) for each species, there were upward trends in 12 RMUs versus downward trends in 5 RMUs. This prevalence of more upward than downward trends was also evident in the individual time series, where we found 95 significant increases in abundance and 35 significant decreases. Adding to this encouraging news for sea turtle conservation, we show that even small sea turtle populations have the capacity to recover, that is, Allee effects appear unimportant. Positive trends in abundance are likely linked to the effective protection of eggs and nesting females, as well as reduced bycatch. However, conservation concerns remain, such as the decline in leatherback turtles in the Eastern and Western Pacific. Furthermore, we also show that, often, time series are too short to identify trends in abundance. Our findings highlight the importance of continued conservation and monitoring efforts that underpin this global conservation success story.
Project description:BACKGROUND:Resolving threats to widely distributed marine megafauna requires definition of the geographic distributions of both the threats as well as the population unit(s) of interest. In turn, because individual threats can operate on varying spatial scales, their impacts can affect different segments of a population of the same species. Therefore, integration of multiple tools and techniques--including site-based monitoring, genetic analyses, mark-recapture studies and telemetry--can facilitate robust definitions of population segments at multiple biological and spatial scales to address different management and research challenges. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS:To address these issues for marine turtles, we collated all available studies on marine turtle biogeography, including nesting sites, population abundances and trends, population genetics, and satellite telemetry. We georeferenced this information to generate separate layers for nesting sites, genetic stocks, and core distributions of population segments of all marine turtle species. We then spatially integrated this information from fine- to coarse-spatial scales to develop nested envelope models, or Regional Management Units (RMUs), for marine turtles globally. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE:The RMU framework is a solution to the challenge of how to organize marine turtles into units of protection above the level of nesting populations, but below the level of species, within regional entities that might be on independent evolutionary trajectories. Among many potential applications, RMUs provide a framework for identifying data gaps, assessing high diversity areas for multiple species and genetic stocks, and evaluating conservation status of marine turtles. Furthermore, RMUs allow for identification of geographic barriers to gene flow, and can provide valuable guidance to marine spatial planning initiatives that integrate spatial distributions of protected species and human activities. In addition, the RMU framework--including maps and supporting metadata--will be an iterative, user-driven tool made publicly available in an online application for comments, improvements, download and analysis.
Project description:Sea turtle populations are often assessed at the regional to sub-basin scale from discrete indices of nesting abundance. While this may be practical and sometimes effective, widespread in-water surveys may enhance assessments by including additional demographics, locations, and revealing emerging population trends. Here, we describe sea turtle observations from 13 years of towed-diver surveys across 53 coral islands, atolls, and reefs in the Central, West, and South Pacific. These surveys covered more than 7,300 linear km, and observed more than 3,400 green (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) sea turtles. From these data, we estimated sea turtle densities, described trends across space and time, and modelled the influence of environmental and anthropogenic drivers. Both species were patchily distributed across spatial scales, and green turtles were 11 times more abundant than hawksbills. The Pacific Remote Island Areas had the highest densities of greens (3.62 turtles km-1, Jarvis Island), while American Samoa had the most hawksbills (0.12 turtles km-1, Ta'u Island). The Hawaiian Islands had the lowest turtle densities (island ave = 0.07 turtles km-1) yet the highest annual population growth (? = 0.08, ? = 0.22), suggesting extensive management protections can yield positive conservation results. Densities peaked at 27.5°C SST, in areas of high productivity and low human impact, and were consistent with patterns of historic overexploitation. Though such intensive surveys have great value, they are logistically demanding and therefore have an uncertain budget and programmatic future. We hope the methods we described here may be applied to future comparatively low-cost surveys either with autonomous vehicles or with environmental DNA.
Project description:Where conservation resources are limited and conservation targets are diverse, robust yet flexible priority-setting frameworks are vital. Priority-setting is especially important for geographically widespread species with distinct populations subject to multiple threats that operate on different spatial and temporal scales. Marine turtles are widely distributed and exhibit intra-specific variations in population sizes and trends, as well as reproduction and morphology. However, current global extinction risk assessment frameworks do not assess conservation status of spatially and biologically distinct marine turtle Regional Management Units (RMUs), and thus do not capture variations in population trends, impacts of threats, or necessary conservation actions across individual populations. To address this issue, we developed a new assessment framework that allowed us to evaluate, compare and organize marine turtle RMUs according to status and threats criteria. Because conservation priorities can vary widely (i.e. from avoiding imminent extinction to maintaining long-term monitoring efforts) we developed a "conservation priorities portfolio" system using categories of paired risk and threats scores for all RMUs (n?=?58). We performed these assessments and rankings globally, by species, by ocean basin, and by recognized geopolitical bodies to identify patterns in risk, threats, and data gaps at different scales. This process resulted in characterization of risk and threats to all marine turtle RMUs, including identification of the world's 11 most endangered marine turtle RMUs based on highest risk and threats scores. This system also highlighted important gaps in available information that is crucial for accurate conservation assessments. Overall, this priority-setting framework can provide guidance for research and conservation priorities at multiple relevant scales, and should serve as a model for conservation status assessments and priority-setting for widespread, long-lived taxa.
Project description:Sea turtles are highly migratory and usually dispersed, but aggregate off beaches during the nesting season, rendering them vulnerable to coastal threats. Consequently, coastal Marine Protection Areas (MPAs) have been used to facilitate the recovery of turtle populations, but the effectiveness of these programs is uncertain as most have been operating for less than a single turtle generation (or<20 yr). South Africa, however, hosts one of the longest running conservation programs, protecting nesting loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) turtles since 1963 in a series of coastal MPAs. This provides a unique opportunity to evaluate the long-term effect of spatial protection on the abundance of two highly migratory turtle species with different life history characteristics. Population responses were assessed by modeling the number of nests over time in an index area (13 km) and an expanded monitoring area (53 km) with varying survey effort. Loggerhead abundance increased dramatically from?250 to>1700 nests pa (index area) especially over the last decade, while leatherback abundance increased initially?10 to 70 nests pa (index area), but then stabilized. Although leatherbacks have higher reproductive output per female and comparable remigration periods and hatching success to loggerheads, the leatherback population failed to expand. Our results suggest that coastal MPAs can work but do not guarantee the recovery of sea turtle populations as pressures change over time. Causes considered for the lack of population growth include factors in the MPA (expansion into unmonitored areas or incubation environment) of outside of the MPA (including carrying capacity and fishing mortality). Conservation areas for migratory species thus require careful design to account for species-specific needs, and need to be monitored to keep track of changing pressures.
Project description:Assessments of population trends based on time-series counts of individuals are complicated by imperfect detection, which can lead to serious misinterpretations of data. Population trends of threatened marine turtles worldwide are usually based on counts of nests or nesting females. We analyze 39 years of nest-count, female-count, and capture-mark-recapture (CMR) data for nesting loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) on Wassaw Island, Georgia, USA. Annual counts of nests and females, not corrected for imperfect detection, yield significant, positive trends in abundance. However, multistate open robust design modeling of CMR data that accounts for changes in imperfect detection reveals that the annual abundance of nesting females has remained essentially constant over the 39-year period. The dichotomy could result from improvements in surveys or increased within-season nest-site fidelity in females, either of which would increase detection probability. For the first time in a marine turtle population, we compare results of population trend analyses that do and do not account for imperfect detection and demonstrate the potential for erroneous conclusions. Past assessments of marine turtle population trends based exclusively on count data should be interpreted with caution and re-evaluated when possible. These concerns apply equally to population assessments of all species with imperfect detection.
Project description:Hybridization between sea turtle species occurs with particularly high frequency at two adjacent nesting areas in northeastern Brazil. To understand the outcomes of hybridization and their consequences for sea turtle conservation, we need to evaluate the extent of hybridization occurrence and possible deleterious effects in the hybrid progeny. Thus, we investigated the hypothesis of the existence of a new hybrid spot offshore of Brazil's northeastern coast. The Abrolhos Archipelago is surrounded by the largest and richest coral reefs in the South Atlantic and is known to be a nesting site for loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta). In this study, we performed a multidisciplinary investigation into levels of hybridization in sea turtles and their reproductive output in the Abrolhos beaches. Genetic data from mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) and six autosomal markers showed that there are first-generation hybrid females nesting in Abrolhos, resulting from crossings between hawksbill males (Eretmochelys imbricata) and loggerhead females, and backcrossed hatchlings from both parental species. The type and extent of hybridization were characterized using genomic data obtained with the 3RAD method, which confirmed backcrossing between F1 hybrids and loggerhead turtles. The reproductive output data of Abrolhos nests suggests a disadvantage of hybrids when compared to loggerheads. For the first time, we have shown the association between hybridization and low reproductive success, which may represent a threat to sea turtle conservation.
Project description:The U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) is a powerful environmental law protecting imperiled plants and animals, and a growing number of marine species have been protected under this law as extinction risk in the oceans has increased. Marine mammals and sea turtles comprise 38% of the 163 ESA-listed marine "species", which includes subspecies and distinct population segments, yet analyses of recovery trends after listing are lacking. Here we gathered the best available annual abundance estimates for geographically delimited populations of all 62 marine mammal and sea turtle species listed under the ESA. Of these, we chose representative populations of species that were listed before 2012, occur and reproduce in U.S. waters, and have data of sufficient quality and timespan for trend analyses. Thus, we quantitatively analyzed population trends, magnitude of population change, and recovery status for 23 and 8 representative populations of 14 marine mammal and 5 sea turtle species, respectively. Using generalized linear and non-linear models, we found that 18 marine mammal (78%) and 6 sea turtle (75%) populations significantly increased after listing; 3 marine mammal (13%) and 2 sea turtle (25%) populations showed non-significant changes; while 2 marine mammal (9%), but no sea turtle populations declined after ESA protection. Overall, the 24 populations that increased in abundance were from species listed for 20 years or more (e.g., large whales, manatees, and sea turtles). Conservation measures triggered by ESA listing such as ending exploitation, tailored species management, and fishery regulations, and other national and international measures, appear to have been largely successful in promoting species recovery, leading to the delisting of some species and to increases in most populations. These findings underscore the capacity of marine mammal and sea turtle species to recover from substantial geographical population declines when conservation actions are implemented in a timely and effective manner.
Project description:Environmental factors shape the spatial distribution and dynamics of populations. Understanding how these factors interact with movement behavior is critical for efficient conservation, in particular for migratory species. Adult female green sea turtles, Chelonia mydas, migrate between foraging and nesting sites that are generally separated by thousands of kilometers. As an emblematic endangered species, green turtles have been intensively studied, with a focus on nesting, migration, and foraging. Nevertheless, few attempts integrated these behaviors and their trade-offs by considering the spatial configurations of foraging and nesting grounds as well as environmental heterogeneity like oceanic currents and food distribution. We developed an individual-based model to investigate the impact of local environmental conditions on emerging migratory corridors and reproductive output and to thereby identify conservation priority sites. The model integrates movement, nesting, and foraging behavior. Despite being largely conceptual, the model captured realistic movement patterns which confirm field studies. The spatial distribution of migratory corridors and foraging hot spots was mostly constrained by features of the regional landscape, such as nesting site locations, distribution of feeding patches, and oceanic currents. These constraints also explained the mixing patterns in regional forager communities. By implementing alternative decision strategies of the turtles, we found that foraging site fidelity and nesting investment, two characteristics of green turtles' biology, are favorable strategies under unpredictable environmental conditions affecting their habitats. Based on our results, we propose specific guidelines for the regional conservation of green turtles as well as future research suggestions advancing spatial ecology of sea turtles. Being implemented in an easy to learn open-source software, our model can coevolve with the collection and analysis of new data on energy budget and movement into a generic tool for sea turtle research and conservation. Our modeling approach could also be useful for supporting the conservation of other migratory marine animals.
Project description:Nesting by three species of marine turtles persists in the Dominican Republic, despite historic threats and long-term population decline. We conducted a genetic survey of marine turtles in the Dominican Republic in order to link them with other rookeries around the Caribbean. We sequenced a 740bp fragment of the control region of the mitochondrial DNA of 92 samples from three marine turtle species [hawksbill (n?=?48), green (n?=?2) and leatherback (n?=?42)], and incorporated published data from other nesting populations and foraging grounds. The leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) in the Dominican Republic appeared to be isolated from Awala-Yalimapo, Cayenne, Trinidad and St. Croix but connected with other Caribbean populations. Two distinct nesting populations of hawksbill turtles (Eremochelys imbricata) were detected in the Dominican Republic and exhibited interesting patterns of connectivity with other nesting sites and juvenile and adult male foraging aggregations. The green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) has almost been extirpated from the Dominican Republic and limited inference could be made from our samples. Finally, results were compared with Lagrangian drifting buoys and published Lagrangian virtual particles that travelled through the Dominican Republic and Caribbean waters. Conservation implications of sink-source effects or genetic isolation derived from these complex inter-connections are discussed for each species and population.
Project description:Background:The Aegean Sea coast of Turkey hosts one of the most important nesting grounds for loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) in the Mediterranean Sea. Previous studies have revealed that the sea turtle carapace provides favourable conditions for various epibiontic organisms. Epibionts occurring on the carapace have been examined from different locations in the oceans. Methods:This is the first time such a high number (39) of samples collected from nesting turtles during such a long time period (extending from 2011 to 2018) has been used for the study of the diatom component of the microbiome on the turtle carapaces. A total of 33 samples were investigated in terms of light microscopy (LM) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Six unprocessed biofilm fragments were subject to SEM observations. Results:A total of 457 epizoic diatom taxa belonging to 86 genera were identified. Epizoic forms, e.g., Achnanthes spp., Chelonicola spp. or Tripterion spp. (also identified by SEM observations of the undisturbed pieces of the microbiome) dominated in terms of relative abundance, but the highest numbers of taxa were ubiquitously represented by Navicula (79), Nitzschia (45), Amphora (40), Cocconeis (32), Diploneis (25) and Mastogloia (23). Navicula perminuta and Delphineis australis were the most frequent taxa, present in 65% of the samples, both with an average relative abundance of 10%. The results of our study revealed that diatoms are an essential component of the loggerhead sea turtles' microbiome, in terms of high biodiversity and abundance. Although strict epibionts provide a signature of the turtle microbiome, the carapace as a solid substrate attracts numerous benthic diatom species which are considered opportunistic forms and can be found in the surrounding benthic habitats of the vast ocean littoral space.