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ESR 54:15-27 (2024)  -  DOI:

Identifying impactful sea turtle conservation strategies: a mismatch between most influential and most readily manageable life-stages

Shane A. Richards1,*, Christopher Cvitanovic2,8, Michael Dunlop3, Sabrina Fossette4, Linda Thomas5, Anton D. Tucker4, E. Ingrid van Putten5,6, Andrea U. Whiting7, Scott D. Whiting4, Alistair J. Hobday5,6

1School of Natural Sciences, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania 7000, Australia
2Centre for Marine Science and Innovation, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia
3CSIRO Environment, Black Mountain, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2601, Australia
4Biodiversity and Conservation Science, Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Kensington, Western Australia 6151, Australia
5CSIRO Environment, Castray Esplanade, Hobart, Tasmania 7000, Australia
6Centre for Marine Socioecology, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania 7000, Australia
7School of Environmental and Life Sciences, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Northern Territory 0871, Australia
8Present address: School of Business, University of New South Wales, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory 2600, Australia
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Sea turtles worldwide face a range of threats including sea level rise and warming associated with climate change, predation by invasive species, plastic and light pollution, coastal development, and human interference. Conservation managers have a long history of aiding sea turtle populations, from protecting nests to head-starting hatchlings. Due to these challenges faced by turtles, there is a constant focus on assessing the likely success of proposed conservation interventions to help inform decision-making processes. We develop an age-based, spatially implicit population model for the north-west shelf stock of Australia’s endemic flatback turtle Natator depressus that estimates the long-term outcomes of a range of onshore and offshore conservation interventions. Analysis of the model shows that young adults contribute most to population growth (i.e. have highest expected future reproductive success); however, this is often the most difficult life stage to manipulate in the field. Observable outcomes of interventions are often delayed for many years, especially for on shore activities (e.g. protecting eggs and hatchlings), due to late age to maturity. The potential impact of warming-induced female bias on population dynamics was also investigated. Although such bias increases population growth rates in the short term, negative effects of the bias (e.g. reduced female mating success) and negative environmental effects (e.g. reduced survival rates, habitat loss) can lead to sustained declines. Population models can rapidly assess climate change and conservation impacts on turtle dynamics and can guide monitoring efforts for real-world application.

KEY WORDS: Sea turtles · Natator depressus · Anthropogenic threats · Life history · Modelling

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Cite this article as: Richards SA, Cvitanovic C, Dunlop M, Fossette S and others (2024) Identifying impactful sea turtle conservation strategies: a mismatch between most influential and most readily manageable life-stages. Endang Species Res 54:15-27.

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