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Cause-specific temporal and spatial trends in green sea turtle strandings in the Hawaiian Archipelago (1982-2003)

January 1, 2008

We investigated cause-specific temporal and spatial trends in sea turtle strandings in the Hawaiian Archipelago. Five species of sea turtle were recorded in 3,861 strandings over a 22-year period (1982–2003). Green turtles comprised 97% of these strandings with size and gender composition reflecting the demographic structure of the resident green turtle population and relative green turtle abundance in Hawaiian waters. The cause of strandings was determined by necropsy based on a complete gross external and internal examination. Totally 75% of the 3,732 green turtle strandings were from Oahu where strandings occur year-round. The most common known cause of the green turtle strandings was the tumour-forming disease, fibropapillomatosis (28%) followed by hook-and-line fishing gear-induced trauma (7%), gillnet fishing gear-induced trauma (5%), boat strike (2.5%), and shark attack (2.7%). Miscellaneous causes comprised 5.4% of strandings whereas 49% of green turtle strandings could not be attributed to any known cause. Green turtle strandings attributable to boat strike were more likely from Kauai and Oahu while fibropapilloma strandings were more likely from Oahu and Maui. Hook-and-line gear strandings were more likely from Oahu due to higher per capita inshore fishing effort. The specific mortality rate (conditional probability) for fibropapillomatosis was 88%, 69% for gillnet gear and 52% for hook-and-line gear. The probability of a dead green turtle stranding increased from 1982 but levelled off by the mid-1990s. The declining mortality risk was because the prevalence and severity of fibropapillomatosis has decreased recently and so has the mortality risk attributable to gillnet gear. Despite exposure to disease and inshore fishing gears, the Hawaiian green turtle stock continues to recover following protection since the late 1970s. Nevertheless, measures to reduce incidental capture of sea turtles in coastal Hawaiian fisheries would be prudent, especially since strandings attributable to hook-and-line fishing gear have increased steadily since 1982.

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