The loggerhead sea turtle Caretta caretta faces declining nest numbers and bycatches from commercial longline fishing in the southeastern USA. Understanding spatial and temporal habitat-use patterns of these turtles, especially reproductive females in the neritic zone, is critical for guiding management decisions. To assess marine turtle habitat use within the Dry Tortugas National Park (DRTO), we used satellite telemetry to identify core-use areas for 7 loggerhead females inter-nesting and tracked in 2008 and 2009. This effort represents the first tracking of DRTO loggerheads, a distinct subpopulation that is 1 of 7 recently proposed for upgrading from threatened to endangered under the US Endangered Species Act. We also used a rapid, high-resolution, digital imaging system to map benthic habitats in turtle core-use areas (i.e. 50% kernel density zones). Loggerhead females were seasonal residents of DRTO for 19 to 51 d, and individual inter-nesting habitats were located within 1.9 km (2008) and 2.3 km (2009) of the nesting beach and tagging site. The core area common to all tagged turtles was 4.2 km2 in size and spanned a depth range of 7.6 to 11.5 m. Mapping results revealed the diversity and distributions of benthic cover available in the core-use area, as well as a heavily used corridor to/from the nesting beach. This combined tagging-mapping approach shows potential for planning and improving the effectiveness of marine protected areas and for developing spatially explicit conservation plans.
Additional publication details
Inter-nesting habitat-use patterns of loggerhead sea turtles: enhancing satellite tracking with benthic mapping