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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps13469

Growth rates for immature Kemp’s ridley sea turtles from a foraging area in the northern Gulf of Mexico

Margaret M. Lamont*, Darren Johnson

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Examining vital rates helps clarify how environmental characteristics, biological resources and human activities affect population growth. Carapace lengths were gathered for 241 Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) sea turtles that were marked and recaptured (n = 23) from 2011 to 2019 at a foraging location in Northwest Florida. There was a strong correlation between length, width and weight of captured turtles. Mean size of all captured turtles was 36.6 cm (SD = 7.6). Mean recapture interval was 499 days (SD = 475.4). Straight-line carapace lengths at initial capture ranged from 20.6 cm to 53.3 cm. Growth rates from 0.21 to 12.44 cm yr-1 (SD = 2.64) were documented and were greatest for turtles in the 20.0–29.9 cm size class. Growth rates from Northwest Florida were slower than those reported from other sites in the Gulf of Mexico. These results indicate Kemp’s ridleys recruit from oceanic habitat into coastal bays in Northwest Florida where they remain until they reach adulthood. However, some adult-sized turtles may continue to use the nearshore habitat. A gradient in growth rates in the Gulf of Mexico may occur from faster growth in the south to slower growth in the north. Fine-scale variations in resources and environmental conditions may drive regional differences in growth rates, and research on what drives these differences is needed.