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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Green turtle population recovery at Aldabra Atoll continues after 50 years of protection

Adam M. Pritchard*, Cheryl L. Sanchez, Nancy Bunbury, April J. Burt, Jock C. Currie, Naomi Doak, Frauke Fleischer-Dogley, Kristian Metcalfe, Jeanne A. Mortimer, Heather Richards, Janske van de Crommenacker, Brendan J. Godley

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Green turtles Chelonia mydas have been subject to high levels of anthropogenic exploitation, with harvesting at their nesting sites, especially pronounced throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, leading to worldwide declines. Due to their delayed sexual maturity, long-term protection and monitoring is crucial to allow and accurately demonstrate population recovery. Subsequent to their exploitation, Aldabra Atoll (Republic of Seychelles) has offered the longest continuous protection for nesting green turtles anywhere in the Western Indian Ocean, beginning in 1968. Here we document the continuing recovery of that population by estimating clutch production within 12-month nesting seasons over a period of 50 years of monitoring. An estimated mean of 15297 clutches was laid annually between December 2014 and November 2019. This represents an increase of 173% since Aldabra’s intensive monitoring programme was initiated in 1980, and 410–665% since 1968. Clutch number increases were recorded at all but one of six monitored beach groups around the atoll but were most pronounced at Settlement Beach, where exploitation of nesting females was historically most intense. Seasonality data since 2000 showed a year-round nesting season, with elevated activity in April–June peaking on average in May, and a potential shift to later in the year over time. This study highlights the considerable contribution of Aldabra Atoll to regional green turtle numbers and the benefit of long-term protection and monitoring at what can be considered a global reference site for this species.