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The spatial ecology of juvenile loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) in the Indian Ocean sheds light on the “lost years” mystery

Abstract

While our understanding of the early oceanic developmental stage of sea turtles has improved markedly over recent decades, the spatial context for this life history stage remains unknown for Indian Ocean loggerhead turtle populations. To address this gap in our knowledge, 18 juvenile loggerheads were satellite tracked from Reunion Island (21.2°S, 55.3°E) between 2007 and 2011. Nine turtles swam north toward Oman (20.5°N, 58.8°E), where one of the world’s largest rookeries of loggerheads is located. Three individuals traveled south toward South Africa and Madagascar, countries that also host loggerhead nesting grounds. Fourteen of the transmitters relayed diving profiles. A dichotomy between diurnal and nocturnal diving behavior was observed with a larger number of shorter dives occurring during the day. Diving behavior also differed according to movement behavior as individuals spent more time in subsurface waters (between 10 and 20 m) during transit phases. The study provides an understanding of the oceanic movement behavior of juvenile loggerheads in the Indian Ocean that suggests the existence of an atypical trans-equatorial developmental cycle for the species at the ocean basin scale in the Indian Ocean. These results address a significant gap in the understanding of loggerhead oceanic movements and may help with the conservation of the species.

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Acknowledgments

The authors are grateful to the organizations that contributed to funding the study: DEAL La Réunion, Région Réunion, Fondation Crédit Agricole, CLS-Argos, and University of La Réunion. Mayeul Dalleau personally thanks Région Réunion for funding his PhD studentship. The authors also wish to thank all the people and organizations that made this study possible, especially boat captains and crew members of Réunion Island longline vessels boats that collaborated with the program; Francis Schneider and his veterinary team for surgical operations and medical care, the Kélonia team for medical care and awareness programs, the school children and teachers for sponsorships, and Dr. Georges Hughes for correcting the English of the current article. The study was conducted under authorization no. 09-1405/SG/DRCTCV issued by the Reunion Island prefecture on 2009-05-11. At last, we wish to thank the reviewers that contributed improving this paper and the editor for his useful comments.

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Correspondence to Mayeul Dalleau.

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Communicated by J. D. R. Houghton.

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Dalleau, M., Benhamou, S., Sudre, J. et al. The spatial ecology of juvenile loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta) in the Indian Ocean sheds light on the “lost years” mystery. Mar Biol 161, 1835–1849 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-014-2465-z

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Keywords

  • Indian Ocean
  • Diving Behavior
  • Dive Duration
  • Loggerhead Turtle
  • Southern Group