, Volume 156, Issue 9, pp 1827-1839
Date: 26 May 2009

Post-nesting migrations of loggerhead sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico: dispersal in highly dynamic conditions

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Abstract

This study is the first report of post-nesting migrations of loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) nesting in Sarasota County (Florida, USA), their most important rookery in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). In total, 28 females (curved carapace length CCL between 82.2 and 112.0 cm) were satellite-tracked between May 2005 and December 2007. Post-nesting migrations were completed in 3–68 days (mean ± SD = 23 ± 16 days). Five different migration patterns were observed: six turtles remained in the vicinity of their nesting site while the other individuals moved either to the south-western part of the Florida Shelf (n = 9 turtles), the Northeast GOM (n = 2 turtles), the South GOM (Yucatán Shelf and Campeche Bay, Mexico, and Cuba; n = 5 turtles) or the Bahamas (n = 6 turtles). In average, turtles moved along rather straight routes over the continental shelf but showed more indirect paths in oceanic waters. Path analyses coupled with remote sensing oceanographic data suggest that most of long-distance migrants reached their intended foraging destinations but did not compensate for the deflecting action of ocean currents. While six out of seven small individuals (CCL < 90 cm) remained on the Florida Shelf, larger individuals showed various migration strategies, staying on the Florida Shelf or moving to long-distance foraging grounds. This study highlights the primary importance the Western Florida Shelf in the management of the Florida Nesting Subpopulation, as well as the need of multi-national effort to promote the conservation of the loggerhead turtle in the Western Atlantic.

Communicated by S. Garthe.