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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS - Vol. 463 - Feature article
A juvenile green turtle Chelonia mydas within a convergent line of pelagic Sargassum macroalgae in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Blair Witherington

Witherington B, Hirama S, Hardy R


Young sea turtles of the pelagic Sargassum-dominated drift community: habitat use, population density, and threats


After dispersing from their natal beaches, young sea turtles begin a mysterious open-sea life stage often termed the 'lost year(s)'. It is hypothesized that in the western North Atlantic these juvenile sea turtles associate with pelagic Sargassum macroalgae. To examine this association, Witherington and co-workers conducted vessel transects and captured young green, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, and loggerhead sea turtles in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean off Florida (USA). They measured relative abundance, behavior, diet, and the turtles’ association with oceanic surface features. The results support a description of pelagic Sargassum drift habitat as a transient hot spot for young sea turtles and a focal point for threats including marine debris and petroleum.


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