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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01172

New management unit for conservation of the endangered green turtle Chelonia mydas at the Xisha (Paracel) Islands, South China Sea

Jia-hao Song, Bai-an Lin, Yu-yan Jia, Peter H. Dutton, Bin Kang, George H. Balazs, Min Liu*

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The Qilianyu cluster of the Xisha (Paracel) Islands has one of the few remaining green turtle (Chelonia mydas) rookeries in the China region. Genetic samples were obtained from dead green turtle embryos and hatchlings salvaged from post-hatched nests at Middle Island (n = 3), North Island (n = 9) and South Sand (n = 1) of the Qilianyu cluster in 2017–2019. The ~800 bp mitochondrial DNA control region was sequenced from the samples, and 5 haplotypes were identified belonging to 2 documented clades (clades III and VIII), including 2 new haplotypes (CmP243.1 and CmP244.1) and 3 previously reported haplotypes (CmP18.1, CmP19.1, CmP20.1). These results were combined with previously published mtDNA data for the Qilianyu cluster and nearby (~93 km) Yongle Islands indicating a lack of differentiation based on truncated 384 bp control region sequences (exact test, p = 0.0997; FST = 0.015, p = 0.2760), to represent a single Xisha Islands rookery. The rookery at the Xisha Islands was significantly differentiated (p < 0.01) from all 19 Management Units (MUs) documented in the Indo-Pacific and Japan regions, supporting recognition of the Xisha Islands rookery as a new independent MU. The results will help inform national and international conservation action plans by China and the countries around the South China Sea to protect green turtles in the West Pacific Ocean.