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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Evaluating prevalence of external injuries on nesting loggerhead sea turtles Caretta caretta in southeastern Florida, USA

Aleah Ataman, Alison M. Gainsbury, Charles A. Manire, Sarah L. Hoffmann, Annie Page-Karjian, Sarah E. Hirsch, Maximilian M. R. Polyak, Deby L. Cassill, Derek M. Aoki, Katelyn M. Fraser, Skyler Klingshirn, Jamie A. Stoll, Justin R. Perrault*

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Sea turtles face both anthropogenic and natural threats including boat strikes, fisheries, pollution, and predator attacks. Injuries from anthropogenic sources are more common than naturally caused injuries. The goal of this study was to determine prevalence and cause (e.g., boat strike, entanglement, hook, shark bite) of injuries on nesting loggerhead sea turtles Caretta caretta on Juno and Jupiter Beaches, Florida, USA. During the 2019 and 2020 nesting seasons, a total of 450 loggerhead females were examined for external injuries. Injuries were categorized by anatomic location, condition, and cause. We found that 24% (107/450) of nesting loggerheads had at least one injury. Of the 111 injuries found on 107 nesting females, 88% were healed, 9% were partially healed with some scarred tissue, and 3% were fresh injuries. Most injuries (55%) were lateral injuries on the carapace or appendages. Lastly, we were able to attribute a total of 60 injuries to a specific cause. Boat strikes accounted for 75% of the 60 injuries, shark bites accounted for 15%, fishing hooks accounted for 7%, and entanglements accounted for the remaining 3%. This study provides new insight into the prevalence of anthropogenic injuries relative to natural injuries in loggerhead sea turtles nesting in Florida, and can be used to improve conservation management plans through implementation of fishing and/or boating restrictions in nesting and foraging areas where sea turtles most commonly frequent.