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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 338:225-232 (2007)  -  doi:10.3354/meps338225

Meta-analysis of movements in Atlantic leatherback turtles during the nesting season: conservation implications

Jean-Yves Georges1,*, Sabrina Fossette1,2, Alexis Billes3, Sandra Ferraroli1,2, Jacques Fretey4, David Grémillet1,5, Yvon Le Maho1, Andrew E. Myers6, Hideji Tanaka7,8,9, Graeme C. Hays6

1Institut Pluridisciplinaire Hubert Curien-Département Ecologie, Physiologie et Ethologie, Université Louis Pasteur, CNRS-7178, 23 rue Becquerel, 67087 Strasbourg, France
2Université Louis Pasteur, 4 rue Blaise Pascal, 67070 Strasbourg, France
3Programme Kudu, Cellule de coordination ECOFAC, BP 15115, Batterie IV, Libreville, Gabon
4Union Internationale pour la Conservation de la Nature, Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, 36 rue Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 75005 Paris, France
5Percy FitzPatrick Institute, University of Cape Town, Rondebosch 7701, South Africa
6School of Biological Sciences, Institute of Environmental Sustainability, University of Wales Swansea, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PP, UK
7Department of Social Informatics, Graduate School of Informatics, Kyoto University, Yoshida-Honmachi, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8501, Japan
8National Institute of Polar Research, 1-9-10 Kaga, Itabashi-ku, Tokyo 173-8515, Japan
9Present address: Graduate School of Fisheries Sciences, Hokkaido University, 3-1-1 Minato-cho, Hakodate 041-8611, Japan

ABSTRACT: Despite decades of conservation efforts on the nesting beaches, the critical status of leatherback turtles shows that their survival predominantly depends on our ability to reduce at-sea mortality. Although areas where leatherbacks meet fisheries have been identified during the long distance movements between 2 consecutive nesting seasons, hot-spots of lethal interactions are still poorly defined within the nesting season, when individuals concentrate close to land. Here we report movements of satellite-tracked gravid leatherback turtles during the nesting season in Western Central Africa, South America and the Caribbean Sea, which account for about 70% of the world population. We show that during and at the end of the nesting season, leatherback turtles have the propensity to remain over the continental shelf, yet sometimes perform extended movements and may even nest in neighbouring countries. Leatherbacks exploit coastal commercial fishing grounds and face substantial accidental capture by regional coastal fisheries (e.g. at least 10% in French Guiana). This emphasises the need for regional conservation strategies to be developed at the ocean scale—both at sea and on land—to ensure the survival of the last leatherback turtles.

KEY WORDS: At-sea movements · Atlantic Ocean · By-catch · Coastal fisheries · Conservation · Dermochelys coriacea · Endangered species · Leatherback turtle · Nesting season · Site fidelity

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