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ESR 48:15-29 (2022)  -  DOI:

Oceanic drivers of juvenile sea turtle strandings in the UK

Lisa E. Kettemer1,2,*, Arne Biastoch2,3, Patrick Wagner2, Ellen J. Coombs4,5, Rod Penrose6, Rebecca Scott2,7

1Department for Arctic and Marine Biology, UiT-The Arctic University of Norway, Hansine Hansens veg 18, 9019 Tromsø, Norway
2GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, 24105 Kiel, Germany
3Kiel University, 24148 Kiel, Germany
4Genetics, Evolution, and Environment Department, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK
5Natural History Museum, London SW7 5BD, UK
6Marine Environmental Monitoring, Penwalk SA43 2PS, Wales, UK
7Independent Scientist, Swindon SN1 4LT, UK
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Juvenile sea turtles can disperse thousands of kilometers from nesting beaches to oceanic development habitats, aided by ocean currents. In the North Atlantic, turtles dispersing from American beaches risk being advected out of warm nursery grounds in the North Atlantic Gyre into lethally cold northern European waters (e.g. around the UK). We used an ocean model simulation to compare simulated numbers of turtles that were advected to cold waters around the UK with observed numbers of turtles reported in the same area over ~5 decades. Rates of virtual turtles predicted to encounter lethal (10°C) or detrimental (15°C) temperatures (mean 19% ± 2.7 SD) and reach the UK were consistently low (median 0.83%, lower quartile 0.67%, upper quartile 1.02%), whereas there was high inter-annual variability in the numbers of dead or critically ill turtles reported in the UK. Generalized additive models suggest inter-annual variability in the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) index to be a good indicator of annual numbers of turtle strandings reported in the UK. We demonstrate that NAO variability drives variability in the dispersion scenarios of juvenile turtles from key nesting regions into the North Atlantic. Coastal effects, such as the number of storms and mean sea surface temperatures in the UK, were significant but weak predictors, with a weak effect on turtle strandings. Further understanding how changing environmental conditions such as NAO variability and storms affect the fate of juvenile turtles is vital for understanding the distribution and population dynamics of sea turtles.

KEY WORDS: Sea turtle · Stranding · North Atlantic Oscillation · NAO · Dispersal · Ocean model · Storms effects

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Cite this article as: Kettemer LE, Biastoch A, Wagner P, Coombs EJ, Penrose R, Scott R (2022) Oceanic drivers of juvenile sea turtle strandings in the UK. Endang Species Res 48:15-29.

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