Endangered leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) are wide-ranging, long-distance migrants whose movements are often associated with environmental cues. We examined the spatial distribution and habitat use for 33 satellite-tracked leatherbacks from nesting beaches on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and Panama from 2004 to 2018, an important nesting population for the leatherback Northwest Atlantic Distinct Population Segment. Tracking revealed the use of two distinct regions, the Gulf of Mexico (GoM, n = 18) and the North Atlantic Ocean (NAO, n = 15). We developed density utilization maps to elucidate high-use habitats, migration pathways, and seasonal movements. GoM leatherbacks were found in three concentrated high-use habitats connected by a migration pathway, while NAO leatherbacks were primarily found in a single, large high-use habitat. Leatherbacks in both regions have the potential to interact with Atlantic pelagic longline fisheries based on seasonal overlap with high fishing effort. Our findings suggest that the GoM is an important destination for leatherbacks from the Caribbean coast of Central America with seasonal movements between high-use habitats within the GoM. While leatherbacks are utilizing high-use habitats in both the NAO and the GoM, the proportion of individuals migrating into the GoM increased over the study period. Additionally, NAO leatherbacks have increased the distance they travel in the first 90 d. Regional differences in movement and spatial distribution of high-use habitats are important considerations when developing conservation plans for the Northwest Atlantic leatherback population.
|Publication Subtype||Journal Article|
|Title||Identification of the Gulf of Mexico as an important high-use habitat for leatherback turtles from Central America|
|Contributing office(s)||Coop Res Unit Atlanta|
|Description||e03722, 14 p.|
|Other Geospatial||Gulf of Mexico|
|Google Analytic Metrics||Metrics page|