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ESR 44:277-289 (2021)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01107

Embryo deformities and nesting trends in Kemp’s ridley sea turtles Lepidochelys kempii before and after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Donna J. Shaver1,*, Christian Gredzens1, J. Shelby Walker1, Céline A. J. Godard-Codding2, Janet E. Yacabucci2, Amy Frey3, Peter H. Dutton3, Christopher J. Schmitt4

1National Park Service, Padre Island National Seashore, Corpus Christi, TX 78480, USA
2The Institute of Environmental and Human Health, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX 79409, USA
3NOAA Fisheries, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA
4US Geological Survey, Columbia Environmental Research Center, Columbia, MO 65201, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Kemp’s ridley sea turtles Lepidochelys kempii were disproportionately affected by the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil spill, which began on 20 April 2010. Embryo deformities were documented in inviable L. kempii eggs before (2008-2010) and after (2011-2013) the DWH spill in 2 Texas (USA) nesting areas (Upper Texas Coast and Padre Island National Seashore). Additional nesting trends, including clutch size and hatching success, were also investigated. Total and late-stage embryo deformity prevalence were 1.5 times greater after 2010 than before, but low in all nesting seasons (mean ± SD: 0.7 ± 8.5% total; 0.6 ± 8.0% late-stage) and did not differ between locations. Craniofacial and carapace deformities were the most frequently observed deformity types. Documented nests in both areas declined in 2010 relative to previous years, ending an exponential increase observed beginning in 1995. Clutch size remained consistent before and after the spill. Hatching success averaged 87.0 ± 33.3% in all years, but no effects from DWH were determined. Collectively, these data represent useful benchmarks against which to judge impacts of future crude oil spills and other catastrophic events.


KEY WORDS: Maternal exposure · Nest success · Craniofacial deformities · Gulf of Mexico · Texas


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Cite this article as: Shaver DJ, Gredzens C, Walker JS, Godard-Codding CAJ and others (2021) Embryo deformities and nesting trends in Kemp’s ridley sea turtles Lepidochelys kempii before and after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Endang Species Res 44:277-289. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01107

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