Identification of high-use internesting habitats for eastern Pacific leatherback turtles: role of the environment and implications for conservation

GL Shillinger, AM Swithenbank, SJ Bograd, H Bailey, MR Castelton, Wallace BP, JR Spotila, FV Paladino, R Piedra, BA Block
2010 Endangered Species Research  
The numbers of leatherback turtles Dermochelys coriacea in the eastern Pacific Ocean have declined by up to 90% in the past 2 decades. Initially, egg harvesting was determined to be the largest causative factor, but now that this has been eliminated, high estimated adult mortality from fisheries bycatch poses the single greatest threat to this population. During the nesting season, adult female leatherback turtles nest multiple times and occupy coastal marine habitats near their nesting
more » ... In this study, we characterize the interannual variability of high-use internesting habitats used by 44 (out of 46 total) female leatherback turtles that were satellite-tagged at Playa Grande, Costa Rica, from 2004 to 2007. A total of 1135 d of internesting movements were recorded across 3 tracking years. The core 25% utilization distribution (UD) remained predominantly centered within the marine protected area, Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas (PNMB). The turtles generally dispersed in a northward or southward direction over the shallow continental shelf framing Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula. However, there was considerable interannual variation in the shape and area of the larger UD polygons, which was driven by variability in the thermal environment. The maximum swimming speeds and distance traveled from the nesting beach occurred during 2007. Significantly deeper and longer dive durations to cooler temperatures also occurred in this year, which may have been in response to the warming trend from the south driven by the strong Costa Rica Coastal Current. Our findings, therefore, validate the importance of PNMB as a critical habitat for internesting leatherback turtles, but also suggest that a latitudinal expansion of the park is warranted.
doi:10.3354/esr00251 fatcat:or6kpt4mibhnjgpdetyvqxfbbq