ESR prepress abstract  -  doi: 10.3354/esr00795

Estimating long-term trends in abundance and survival for nesting flatback turtles in Kakadu National Park, Australia

Rachel A. Groom*, Anthony D. Griffiths, Milani Chaloupka

*Email: rachel.groom@nt.gov.au

ABSTRACT: Flatback turtles are endemic to Australia and Papua New Guinea’s tropical oceans and despite having an extensive distribution around northern Australia, there are few published long-term abundance trends of nesting populations. We conducted a long-term capture-mark-recapture program on nesting flatback turtles on Field Island in Kakadu National Park, a World Heritage Area that is jointly managed by Aboriginal landowners and the Australian Government, from 2002 to 2013 for between 12 and 20 monitoring days per year. We used a Cormack-Jolly-Seber (CJS) model that accounted for transience and recapture heterogeneity to estimate apparent survival and recapture probability, and estimated abundance using a Horvitz-Thompson type estimator. A total of 257 flatback turtles attempted nesting during that period, averaging 3.68 (SE ± 0.28) nesting attempts per night of monitoring. Annual apparent survival of nesting flatback turtles was 0.97 (95% CI 0.94 to 0.98), and increased relative to body size. Recapture probability averaged 0.38 (95% CI 0.34 to 0.42) and was influenced by inter-annual climatic variability. The size of the Field Island nesting flatback turtle population ranged from 97 (95%CI 87 to 106) to 183 (95%CI 165 to 200) and there was a non-significant trend over 12 years of monitoring. Understanding long-term population trends of nesting marine turtles is fundamental for management and recovery of these at-risk species.