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‘Leave No Trace’ ordinances for coastal species management: influences on sea turtle nesting success

Matthew Ware*, Mariana M. P. B. Fuentes

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Coastal environments provide critical ecosystem services but are experiencing a number of threats including marine debris and abandoned beach equipment. To address this threat, municipalities have begun enacting policy measures such as ‘Leave No Trace’ ordinances. The impact of these ordinances on coastal species management has not yet been established. To evaluate the effectiveness of ‘Leave No Trace’ ordinances in coastal species management, sea turtle crawl distribution, nesting success, and the frequency of obstructed crawls pre- and post-ordinance at a loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) nesting beach in Alabama, USA, were compared between 3 treatment groups: (1) Gulf Shores and Orange Beach with new ‘Leave No Trace’ ordinances enacted in 2016, (2) Fort Morgan with no ordinance, and (3) the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and Gulf State Park with ‘Leave No Trace’ ordinances but no resident population. The ordinance had no significant effect on crawl distribution nor nesting success across the study site post-ordinance. However, the frequency of obstructed crawls in populated areas declined by 18.1% with the ordinance. The presence of a resident population was a more significant driver of obstructed crawls than the ordinance as the Bon Secour NWR and Gulf State Park had fewer obstructed crawls than either populated treatment. With time and increased compliance, ‘Leave No Trace’ ordinances may have the potential to improve coastal species management and increase coastal ecosystem services through reduced marine debris entanglement and ingestion, reduced physical damage to the environment, and increased tourism revenue and environmental education.