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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 571:221-232 (2017)  -  DOI:

Movements and diving behaviour of inter-nesting leatherback turtles in an oceanographically dynamic habitat in South Africa

Nathan J. Robinson1,2,*, Stephen J. Morreale3, Ronel Nel4, Frank V. Paladino1,2

1Department of Biology, Indiana University-Purdue University Fort-Wayne, 2101 E Coliseum Blvd, Fort Wayne, Indiana 46805, USA
2The Leatherback Trust, Goldring-Gund Marine Biology Station, Playa Grande, Santa Cruz, Costa Rica
3Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14850, USA
4Department of Zoology, Institute for Coastal and Marine Research, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, University Way, Port Elizabeth, 6031, South Africa
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Sea turtles congregate in specific in-water habitats during reproductive periods. These habitats are inherently tied to the location of their nesting beaches, but they are also influenced by the prevailing oceanographic conditions. Here, we characterized the movements and diving behaviour of leatherback turtles Dermochelys coriacea between nesting events at the iSimangaliso Wetland Park, South Africa. Furthermore, we characterized the general oceanographic features (sea surface temperature and ocean currents) in and around the identified inter-nesting habitats. To achieve this, we deployed satellite transmitters onto 10 inter-nesting leatherback turtles. Many of these turtles were tracked over multiple inter-nesting intervals; in total, we collected data over 25 inter-nesting intervals. Inter-nesting turtles generally stayed within 100 km of the coastline, but they moved large distances north and south, covering approximately 600 km of the coast. Even though sea surface temperatures increased notably over the nesting season, we did not observe any obvious change in the movement or diving patterns of leatherback turtles tracked over consecutive inter-nesting intervals, suggesting that turtles were not selecting inter-nesting habitats based on local sea surface temperature patterns. However, we propose that the fast-flowing Agulhas Current may provide a natural boundary for the movements of inter-nesting turtles. We hypothesize that inter-nesting turtles might be avoiding fast flowing waters to minimize energy expenditure or avoid being advected away from the nesting habitats.

KEY WORDS: Satellite telemetry · Thermal habitats · Spatial ecology · Temperature · Dermochelys coriacea · Conservation · iSimangaliso Wetland Park

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Cite this article as: Robinson NJ, Morreale SJ, Nel R, Paladino FV (2017) Movements and diving behaviour of inter-nesting leatherback turtles in an oceanographically dynamic habitat in South Africa. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 571:221-232.

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