Home range and habitat use of juvenile Atlantic green turtles (Chelonia mydas L.) on shallow reef habitats in Palm Beach, Florida, USA

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Many animals, including sea turtles, alter their movements and home range in relation to the particular type and quality of the habitat occupied. When sufficient resources are available, individuals may develop affinities to specific areas for activities, such as foraging and (or) resting. In the case of green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas L.), after a number of years in the open ocean, juveniles recruit to shallow-water developmental habitats where they occupy distinct home ranges as they feed and grow to maturity. Our goal was to study the habitat use and home range movements of juvenile green turtles along a shallow, worm-rock reef tract in Palm Beach, Florida. Six turtles, measuring from 27.9 to 48.1 cm in straight carapace length and from 7.2 to 12.6 kg in mass, were tracked via ultrasonic telemetry from August to November 2003. Upon capture, each turtle’s esophagus was flushed via lavage to determine recently ingested foods. In addition, four turtles were recaptured and fitted with a time-depth recorder to study dive patterns. Home range areas measured with 100% minimum convex polygon and 95% fixed kernel estimators varied from 0.69 to 5.05 km2 (mean=2.38±1.78 km2) and 0.73 to 4.89 km2 (mean=2.09±1.80 km2), respectively. Home ranges and core areas of turtles were largely restricted to the reef tract itself, and showed considerable overlap between food and shelter sites. The mean number of dives during daylight hours (0600–1800 hours) was 84±5.0 dives, while the mean during night hours (1800–0600 hours) was 39±3.0 dives. Dives during the day were shallower (mean=3.20±1.26 m) than dives at night (mean=5.59±0.09 m). All six turtles were found to have a mixed diet of similar macroalgae and sponge fragments. Our results reveal that juvenile green turtles occupy stable home ranges along the nearshore worm-rock reefs of Southeast Florida, during the summer and fall. Determining which habitats are used by green turtles will assist conservation managers in their global effort to protect this endangered species.

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Financial and logistical support was given by the Florida Atlantic University Center For Sea Turtle Research, the Nelligan Fund, the National Save the Sea Turtles Foundation, and Coastal Planning & Engineering, Inc. We would like to thank the following individuals for their generous contributions to this research: E. Anderson, R. Baron, T. Campbell, K. Floyd, A. Gardner, C. Kruempel, M. Lybolt, A. Marsh, M. Sagristano, M. Simini, R. Slattery, R. Spadoni, and J. Wyneken. All animals were handled in full compliance with IACUC protocol through Florida Atlantic University. Permits to carry out this study were received from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (TP 073) and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

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Correspondence to Christopher Makowski.

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Communicated by P.W. Sammarco, Chauvin

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Makowski, C., Seminoff, J.A. & Salmon, M. Home range and habitat use of juvenile Atlantic green turtles (Chelonia mydas L.) on shallow reef habitats in Palm Beach, Florida, USA. Marine Biology 148, 1167–1179 (2006).

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  • Home Range
  • Macroalgae
  • Home Range Size
  • Green Turtle
  • Dive Depth