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Confirmation of significant sea turtle nesting activity on a remote island chain in the Gulf of Mexico

August 25, 2023

Globally, six of the seven sea turtle species are threatened or endangered and as such, monitoring reproductive activity for these species is necessary for effective population recovery. Remote beaches provide a challenge to conducting these surveys, which often results in data gaps that can hamper management planning. Throughout the summer of 2022, aerial surveys were conducted over the Chandeleur Islands in the Gulf of Mexico. Turtle crawls were photographed for subsequent review by 10 expert observers. Whenever possible, ground surveys were conducted, and samples of unhatched eggs or dead hatchlings were collected. A summary of historic reports of sea turtle nesting activity at this site was also compiled. On 11 days between May 4, 2022, and July 30, 2022, photographs of 55 potential sea turtle crawls were taken. Observers identified 54 of those as being made by a sea turtle. There was high-to-moderate certainty that 16 of those crawls were nests, that 14 were made by loggerheads, and that two were made by Kemp's ridleys. Observers were least certain of species identification when surveys were conducted during rainy weather. Genetic analyses based on mitochondrial and nuclear DNA were conducted on samples from five nests and those analyses confirmed that three nests were laid by Kemp's ridleys and two were laid by loggerheads. Historic records from the Chandeleur Islands substantiate claims that the Chandeleurs have supported sea turtle nesting activity for decades; however, the consistency of this activity remains unknown. Our aerial surveys, particularly when coupled with imaging, were a useful tool for documenting nesting activity on these remote islands. Future monitoring programs at this site could benefit from a standardized aerial survey program with a seaplane so trends in nesting activity could be determined particularly as the beach undergoes restoration.

Publication Year 2023
Title Confirmation of significant sea turtle nesting activity on a remote island chain in the Gulf of Mexico
DOI 10.1002/ece3.10448
Authors Margaret Lamont, Dianne Ingram, Todd Baker, Matt Weigel, Brian M. Shamblin
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Ecology and Evolution
Index ID 70247940
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wetland and Aquatic Research Center