Coral Reefs

, 28:55 | Cite as

Diving behavior and movements of juvenile hawksbill turtles Eretmochelys imbricata on a Caribbean coral reef

  • J. M. BlumenthalEmail author
  • T. J. Austin
  • J. B. Bothwell
  • A. C. Broderick
  • G. Ebanks-Petrie
  • J. R. Olynik
  • M. F. Orr
  • J. L. Solomon
  • M. J. Witt
  • B. J. Godley


As historically abundant spongivores, hawksbill turtles Eretmochelys imbricata likely played a key ecological role on coral reefs. However, coral reefs are now experiencing global declines and many hawksbill populations are critically reduced. For endangered species, tracking movement has been recognized as fundamental to management. Since movements in marine vertebrates encompass three dimensions, evaluation of diving behavior and range is required to characterize marine turtle habitat. In this study, habitat use of hawksbill turtles on a Caribbean coral reef was elucidated by quantifying diel depth utilization and movements in relation to the boundaries of marine protected areas. Time depth recorders (TDRs) and ultrasonic tags were deployed on 21 Cayman Islands hawksbills, ranging in size from 26.4 to 58.4 cm straight carapace length. Study animals displayed pronounced diel patterns of diurnal activity and nocturnal resting, where diurnal dives were significantly shorter, deeper, and more active. Mean diurnal dive depth (±SD) was 8 ± 5 m, range 2–20 m, mean nocturnal dive depth was 5 ± 5 m, range 1–14 m, and maximum diurnal dive depth was 43 ± 27 m, range 7–91 m. Larger individuals performed significantly longer dives. Body mass was significantly correlated with mean dive depth for nocturnal but not diurnal dives. However, maximum diurnal dive depth was significantly correlated with body mass, suggesting partitioning of vertical habitat by size. Thus, variable dive capacity may reduce intraspecific competition and provide resistance to degradation in shallow habitats. Larger hawksbills may also represent important predators on deep reefs, creating a broad ecological footprint over a range of depths.


Hawksbill turtle Time depth recorder TDR Marine protected area Ultrasonic tracking Deep reef 



For generously sharing the use of ultrasonic equipment, we thank B. Semmens, S. and S. Heppell, L. Whalen, B. Johnson, P. Bush, C. McCoy, and K. Luke of the Grouper Moon Project—a collaborative effort between REEF and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment with funding provided by the NOAA International Coral Reef Conservation Program and PADI Project AWARE. We thank M. Slattery and the NOAA Twilight Zone Expedition Team for their insights and for providing the image used in Fig. 6. For invaluable logistical support and assistance with fieldwork, we thank J. Mills, P. Lopez, K. Donnawell, and Department of Environment administration, operations, and enforcement staff. Work in the Cayman Islands was supported by the National Environment Research Council (NERC) and the Darwin Initiative, and work in the UK was supported by the European Social Fund. We acknowledge support to J. Blumenthal (University of Exeter postgraduate studentship and the Darwin Initiative) and M. Witt (NERC Postgraduate studentship) and thank anonymous reviewers for input which improved the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. M. Blumenthal
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • T. J. Austin
    • 1
  • J. B. Bothwell
    • 1
  • A. C. Broderick
    • 2
  • G. Ebanks-Petrie
    • 1
  • J. R. Olynik
    • 1
  • M. F. Orr
    • 1
  • J. L. Solomon
    • 1
  • M. J. Witt
    • 2
  • B. J. Godley
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Environment, Cayman Islands GovernmentGrand CaymanCayman Islands
  2. 2.Marine Turtle Research Group, Centre for Ecology and Conservation, School of BiosciencesUniversity of Exeter Cornwall CampusPenrynUK

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