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Migration corridors and threats in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Straits for loggerhead sea turtles

April 9, 2020

Along migration corridors, animals can face natural and anthropogenic threats that differ from those in breeding and non-breeding residence areas. Satellite telemetry can aid in describing the timing and location of these migrations. We use this tool with switching state-space modeling and line kernel density estimates to identify migration corridors of post-nesting adult female loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta, n = 89 tracks) that nested at five beaches in the Gulf of Mexico. Turtles migrated in both neritic and oceanic areas of the Gulf of Mexico with some exiting the Gulf. High-use migration corridors were found in neritic areas to the west of Florida and also in the Florida Straits. Repeat tracking of post-nesting migrations for eight turtles showed variability in track overlap, ranging from ∼13 to 82% of tracks within 10 km of each other. Migration primarily occurred in July and August. We document the longest known post-nesting migration to-date of a wild adult female loggerhead of >4,300 km, along with an apparent stopover of about 1 month. Migration corridors overlaid on three spatially explicit anthropogenic threats (shipping density, commercial line fishing, and shrimp trawling) showed hotspots in the Florida Straits, off the northwest Florida coast and off the coast of Tampa Bay. Identifying where and at what intensity multiple human activities and natural processes most likely occur is a key goal of Cumulative Effects Assessments. Our results provide the scientific information needed for designing management strategies for this threatened species. Information about this loggerhead migration corridor can also be used to inform adaptive management as threats shift over time.

Publication Year 2020
Title Migration corridors and threats in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Straits for loggerhead sea turtles
DOI 10.3389/fmars.2020.00208
Authors Autumn Iverson, Allison Benscoter, Ikuko Fujisaki, Margaret Lamont, Kristen Hart
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Frontiers in Marine Science
Index ID 70210107
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wetland and Aquatic Research Center