Protected species use of a coastal marine migratory corridor connecting marine protected areas
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The establishment of protected corridors linking the breeding and foraging grounds of many migratory species remains deficient, particularly in the world’s oceans. For example, Australia has recently established a network of Commonwealth Marine Reserves, supplementing existing State reserves, to protect a wide range of resident and migratory marine species; however, the routes used by mobile species to access these sites are often unknown. The flatback marine turtle (Natator depressus) is endemic to the continental shelf of Australia, yet information is not available about how this species uses the marine area. We used a geospatial approach to delineate a coastal corridor from 73 adult female flatback postnesting migratory tracks from four rookeries along the north-west coast of Australia. A core corridor of 1,150 km length and 30,800 km2 area was defined, of which 52 % fell within 11 reserves, leaving 48 % (of equivalent size to several Commonwealth Reserves) of the corridor outside of the reserve network. Despite limited data being available for other marine wildlife in this region, humpback whale migratory tracks overlapped with 96 % of the core corridor, while the tracks of three other species overlapped by 5–10 % (blue whales, olive ridley turtles, whale sharks). The overlap in the distribution ranges of at least 20 other marine vertebrates (dugong, cetaceans, marine turtles, sea snakes, crocodiles, sharks) with the corridor also imply potential use. In conclusion, this study provides valuable information towards proposing new locations requiring protection, as well as identifying high-priority network linkages between existing marine protected areas.