MEPS 450:181-194 (2012)  -  doi:10.3354/meps09591

Spatial ecology of critically endangered hawksbill turtles Eretmochelys imbricata: implications for management and conservation

Alexander R. Gaos1,2,3,*, Rebecca L. Lewison2, Bryan P. Wallace1,4,5, Ingrid L. Yañez1, Michael J. Liles1,6, Wallace J. Nichols1,7, Andres Baquero1,8,9, Carlos R. Hasbún10, Mauricio Vasquez1,11, José Urteaga1,12, Jeffrey A. Seminoff1,13

1Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative, San Diego, California 92102, USA
2San Diego State University, San Diego, California 92182, USA
3University of California Davis, Davis, California 95616, USA
4Conservation International, Global Marine Division, Arlington 22202, Virginia, USA
5Duke University Marine Lab, Division of Marine Science and Conservation, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA
6Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas 77843, USA
7California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, California 94118, USA
8Fundación Equilibrio Azul, PO Box 17116025, Quito, Ecuador
9Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Quito 02–2971700, Ecuador
10United States Agency for International Development, San Salvador 2235–2506, El Salvador
11Instituto de Ciencias del Mary Limnología de la Universidad de El Salvador, San Salvador, El Salvador
12Fauna and Flora International, CP 527, Managua, Nicaragua
13National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, La Jolla, California 92037, USA

ABSTRACT: Elucidating spatio-temporal movements of animals is an integral component of wildlife conservation and protected species management. Between 2008 and 2010 we satellite tracked 15 adult female hawksbill turtles Eretmochelys imbricata in the eastern Pacific Ocean to evaluate their movement behavior and to guide management and conservation efforts of this highly endangered population. Movements and habitat use were highly neritic, and post-nesting migration distances (maximum = 283.11 km) were short relative to migrations of other sea turtle species. In foraging areas, the majority of hawksbills established restricted, inshore home ranges within mangrove estuaries. A large proportion (>65%) of turtle location points fell within protected areas, although many of these sites lack enforcement and monitoring. The consistent use of estuarine and mangrove habitat for nesting and foraging may explain why hawksbills went virtually undetected in the eastern Pacific for decades. The spatially restricted and neritic life cycles of adult hawksbills in the eastern Pacific highlight threats (e.g. overlap with coastal fisheries, increased susceptibility to habitat degradation and/or catastrophic events) and opportunities for conservation (e.g. acute conservation target areas, less variant jurisdictional boundaries/regulations) for this species. Our results underscore the importance of strengthening protected area management, mangrove estuary protection and hawksbill research and conservation in the eastern Pacific.

KEY WORDS: Satellite telemetry · Movement · Home range · Mangrove estuary · Migration · Protected area · Eastern Pacific

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Cite this article as: Gaos AR, Lewison RL, Wallace BP, Yañez IL and others (2012) Spatial ecology of critically endangered hawksbill turtles Eretmochelys imbricata: implications for management and conservation. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 450:181-194

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