Inter-nesting movements and habitat-use of adult female Kemp’s ridley turtles in the Gulf of Mexico

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Species vulnerability is increased when individuals congregate in restricted areas for breeding; yet, breeding habitats are not well defined for many marine species. Identification and quantification of these breeding habitats are essential to effective conservation. Satellite telemetry and switching state-space modeling (SSM) were used to define inter-nesting habitat of endangered Kemp’s ridley turtles (Lepidochelys kempii) in the Gulf of Mexico. Turtles were outfitted with satellite transmitters after nesting at Padre Island National Seashore, Texas, USA, from 1998 through 2013 (n = 60); Rancho Nuevo, Tamaulipas, Mexico, during 2010 and 2011 (n = 11); and Tecolutla, Veracruz, Mexico, during 2012 and 2013 (n = 11). These sites span the range of nearly all nesting by this species. Inter-nesting habitat lies in a narrow band of nearshore western Gulf of Mexico waters in the USA and Mexico, with mean water depth of 14 to 19 m within a mean distance to shore of 6 to 11 km as estimated by 50% kernel density estimate, α-Hull, and minimum convex polygon methodologies. Turtles tracked during the inter-nesting period moved, on average, 17.5 km/day and a mean total distance of 398 km. Mean home ranges occupied were 725 to 2948 km2. Our results indicate that these nearshore western Gulf waters represent critical inter-nesting habitat for this species, where threats such as shrimp trawling and oil and gas platforms also occur. Up to half of all adult female Kemp’s ridleys occupy this habitat for weeks to months during each nesting season. Because inter-nesting habitat for this species is concentrated in nearshore waters of the western Gulf of Mexico in both Mexico and the USA, international collaboration is needed to protect this essential habitat and the turtles occurring within it.

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Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Inter-nesting movements and habitat-use of adult female Kemp’s ridley turtles in the Gulf of Mexico
Series title PLoS ONE
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0174248
Volume 12
Issue 3
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher PLOS ONE
Contributing office(s) Wetland and Aquatic Research Center
Description e0174248; 27 p.
Country Mexico, United States
Other Geospatial Gulf of Mexico
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