MEPS 587:217-234 (2018)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12372

Expanding the coastal forager paradigm: long-term pelagic habitat use by green turtles Chelonia mydas in the eastern Pacific Ocean

Calandra N. Turner Tomaszewicz1,2,*, Jeffrey A. Seminoff2, Larisa Avens3, Lisa R. Goshe3, Juan M. Rguez-Baron4,5, S. Hoyt Peckham6, Carolyn M. Kurle1

1Division of Biological Sciences, Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution Section, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093-0116, USA
2Southwest Fisheries Science Center, NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service, La Jolla, California 92037, USA
3Southeast Fisheries Science Center, NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service, Beaufort, North Carolina 28516, USA
4Department of Biology & Marine Biology, University of North Carolina Wilmington, Wilmington, North Carolina 28403, USA
5JUSTSEA Foundation, Carrera 13 No. 152-80, Torre 1, 406, Bogota, Colombia
6Center for Ocean Solutions, Stanford University, Pacific Grove, California 93940, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The East Pacific green turtle Chelonia mydas population is gradually recovering, yet much remains unknown about their long-term demographics and habitat use due to their inaccessibility for study. We present the first detailed characterization of age-at-settlement (~3-5 yr), age-at-maturity (~17-30 yr), and long-term resource use patterns for these turtles by combining skeletochronology with stable carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) isotope analysis of annual bone growth layers. We studied dead green turtles stranding along the Baja California Peninsula at Playa San Lázaro in Mexico, where their deaths are presumed to be a result of regional fisheries bycatch. Our stable isotope results indicate that these turtles utilize resources differently than other regional, lagoon-foraging green turtle aggregations. Based on stable isotope values from multiple years for individual turtles, we propose these green turtles are long-term pelagic foragers in the coastal shelf habitat of the Gulf of Ulloa and consume a more carnivorous diet from the epipelagic zone, likely including fishery discards, similar to a sympatric group of foraging North Pacific loggerhead turtles. Thus, green turtles use the Gulf of Ulloa as more than a transit area between benthic lagoon foraging and/or breeding locations. This unexpected and prolonged use of a pelagic foraging area could benefit the turtles by facilitating increased somatic growth, but may be of conservation concern as this area also experiences high fisheries turtle bycatch rates. Our findings expand the current paradigm of green turtle life history and habitat use by demonstrating an unexpected exploitation of habitat and prey for post-oceanic stage turtles.


KEY WORDS: 13C · 15N · Sea turtle · Foraging ecology · Habitat use · Age


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Cite this article as: Turner Tomaszewicz CN, Seminoff JA, Avens L, Goshe LR, Rguez-Baron JM, Peckham SH, Kurle CM (2018) Expanding the coastal forager paradigm: long-term pelagic habitat use by green turtles Chelonia mydas in the eastern Pacific Ocean. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 587:217-234. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps12372

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