Ware, M., Fuentes M.M.P.B., (2020). Leave No Trace ordinances for coastal species management: influences on sea turtle nesting success. Endangered Species Research 41,197-207.
NEW PAPER: Leave No Trace ordinances for coastal species management: influences on sea turtle nesting success
Coastal environments provide critical ecosystem services but experience a number of threats including marine debris and abandoned beach equipment. To address this threat, municipalities have begun enacting policy measures such as Leave No Trace ordinances. The impact of these ordinances on coastal species management has not yet been established. To evaluate the effectiveness of Leave No Trace ordinances in coastal species management, sea turtle crawl distribution, nesting success, and the frequency of obstructed crawls pre- and post-ordinance at a loggerhead sea turtle Caretta caretta nesting beach in Alabama, USA, were compared between 3 treatment groups: (1) Gulf Shores and Orange Beach with new Leave No Trace ordinances enacted in 2016, (2) Fort Morgan with no ordinance, and (3) the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and Gulf State Park with Leave No Trace ordinances but no resident human population. The ordinance had no significant effect on crawl distribution or nesting success across the study site post-ordinance. However, the frequency of obstructed crawls in populated areas declined by 18.1% with the ordinance. The presence of a resident population was a more significant driver of obstructed crawls than the ordinance, as the Bon Secour NWR and Gulf State Park had fewer obstructed crawls than either populated treatment. With time and increased compliance, Leave No Trace ordinances may have the potential to improve coastal species management and increase coastal ecosystem services through reduced marine debris entanglement and ingestion, reduced physical damage to the environment, and increased tourism revenue and environmental education.
Ware, M., Fuentes M.M.P.B., (2020). Leave No Trace ordinances for coastal species management: influences on sea turtle nesting success. Endangered Species Research 41,197-207.
Check out our new article:
Drobes, E. M., Ware, M., Beckwith, V. K., Fuentes, M. M. P. B. (2019). Beach Crabbing as a Possible Hindrance to Loggerhead Marine Turtle Nesting Success. Marine Turtle Newsletter, 159, 1-4.
Perspectives from the field: Assessment of marine turtle nesting habitat at pocket beaches in Florida
After spending previous seasons looking at the exposure of marine turtle nesting beaches to different types of coastal modifications (Kristen's 2017 Field Work ), this year Kristen Sella is looking at the quality of marine turtle nesting habitat adjacent to a specific type of coastal modification: coastal armoring. Her specific focus is areas of beach between seawalls where managers have managed to maintain a small area of nesting beach known as an artificial or urban pocket beach. It is unknown if these areas provide suitable habitat or how likely they are to be used by marine turtles. To address this, this summer she identified pocket beaches using aerial imagery on the beaches throughout the state of Florida. She then traveled around the state to ground truth a portion of these pocket beaches and collected data on each beach including slope, elevation and sand properties. This information will be compared to control beaches at adjacent armoring as well as nearby natural beaches. Kristen Sella is finishing up the last of her site visits and the next steps for this project will include sand analysis in the laboratory to include moisture content and sand grain size analysis. Final steps will include using a wave runup model to assess the likelihood of the pocket beaches to be inundated under high tide or storm conditions and a comparison of nesting data where available from local marine turtle permit holders.
This project was funded by a grant awarded from the Sea Turtle Grants Program. The Sea Turtle Grants Program is funded from proceeds from the sale of the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate. Learn more at www.helpingseaturtles.org
NEW PAPER: Efects of local climate on loggerhead hatchling production in Brazil: Implications from climate change
Sea turtle eggs are heavily infuenced by the environment in which they incubate, including efects on hatching success and hatchling viability (hatchling production). It is crucial to understand how the hatchling production of sea turtles is infuenced by local climate and how potential changes in climate may impact future hatchling production. Generalized Additive Models were used to determine the relationship of six climatic variables at diferent temporal scales on loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) hatchling production at seventeen nesting beaches in Bahia, Espirito Santo, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Using extreme and conservative climate change scenarios throughout the 21st century, potential impacts on future hatching success (the number of hatched eggs in a nest) were predicted using the climatic variable(s) that best described hatchling production at each nesting beach. Air temperature and precipitation were found to be the main drivers of hatchling production throughout Brazil. CMIP5 climate projections are for a warming of air temperature at all sites throughout the 21st century, while projections for precipitation vary regionally. The more tropical nesting beaches in Brazil, such as those in Bahia, are projected to experience declines in hatchling production, while the more temperate nesting beaches, such as those in Rio de Janeiro, are projected to experience increases in hatchling production by the end of the 21st century.
Full reference: Montero, N., P. S. Tomillo, V. S. Saba, M. A. G. dei Marcovaldi, M. López-Mendilaharsu, A. S. Santos, and M. M. P. B. Fuentes. 2019. Effects of local climate on loggerhead hatchling production in Brazil: Implications from climate change. Scientific Reports 9:8861.
NEW PAPER: Habitat Use and Behavior of Multiple Species of Marine Turtles at a Foraging Area in the Northeastern Gulf of Mexico
Multi-species conservation strategies can be useful to maximize allocation of resources. To effectively plan for multi-species management practices, it is important to have a robust understanding of the variability in the spatial and behavioral ecology of sympatric species. To address this in the context of marine turtles, this study explored fine-scale habitat use by three sympatric species [juvenile green turtles (Chelonia mydas), Kemp’s ridley turtles (Lepidochelys kempii) and loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta)] in a foraging area near Crystal River, Florida, United States. By combining sighting surveys and satellite tracking methods, we found that the distribution of the three species of marine turtles in this region overlapped both in space and time. We also observed differences in the fine-scale location of hotspots and in-water behavior among species, with some degree of apparent habitat partitioning. Habitat partitioning was particularly evident when assessing the diving and surfacing behavior of tracked turtles, with some degree of differentiation in diel diving patterns, particularly depths utilized during daytime/nighttime and the dive/surface duration. Our study provides ecological baseline data on the spatial overlap, habitat use and behavior of three sympatric marine turtle species, which can inform future management strategies at nearshore marine habitats in the Northeastern Gulf of Mexico.
Wildermann, N.E., Sasso, C.R., Stokes, L.W., Snodgrass, D., Fuentes, M.M.P.B. (2019). Habitat use and behavior of multiple species of marine turtles at a foraging area in the Northeastern Gulf of Mexico. Frontiers in Marine Science. 6, 155.
Matt successfully defended his PhD dissertation entitled "The effects of beach and species management actions on the nesting and incubation environment of sea turtles in the northern Gulf of Mexico" on the 29th March, 2019. His work contributes greatly to the management and conservation of sea turtles. Some of his research can be found at:
NEW PAPER: Using wave runup modeling to inform coastal species management: An example application for sea turtle nest relocation
The inundation of foreshore and backshore coastal environments caused by wave runup or groundwater intrusion can be extremely detrimental for beach-dwelling organisms. For beach-nesting species, whose eggs require sufficient gas exchangewith the surrounding environment for proper embryonic development, inundation for prolonged periods can result in embryonic mortality. Management strategies such as the relocation of nests high on the beach to avoid wave action have been applied for some species, though this strategy may result in unnecessary nest manipulation. To improve the identification of beach locations potentially exposed to inundation caused by wave wash-over which may require management action, wave runup models were tested in Fort Morgan, Alabama, USA for the 2016 sea turtle nesting season. The potential exposure of sea turtle nesting sites to wave wash-over was determined by comparing observed nest elevations to the predicted combined elevation of wave runup, tide, and surge (i.e., total water level). Total water level was calculated using three different definitions of beach slope: foreshore, nest, and dune-to-water (DTW), and two LiDAR-derived elevation estimates: the most recent survey from 2016 and a time-averaged digital elevation model (DEM). Models using the time-averaged DEM performed as well as, or better than, those using the 2016 LiDAR survey in the majority of comparisons. Wash-over state was correctly identified for up to 83.3% of sites when using nest slope in the wave runup calculation. However, DTW slope performed the best when predicting the wash-over frequency of a site. Mapping of the predicted 98th percentile of wave runup indicated that only 11.2% of nesting sites were exposed to wave wash-over, in contrast to the 21.3% of nests which were relocated. Wave runup models have not previously been used to inform sea turtle conservation actions; however, it holds promise for improved targeted management interventions and can assist other species (e.g., shorebirds, beach mice), which rely on dry beach habitat for nesting, feeding, and migratory rest stops. Wave runup models can also be used to investigate past storm events, forecast approaching storm impacts, and supplement sea level rise scenarios for coastal species management at multiple spatial scales.
Ware, M., Long, J. W., Fuentes, M.M.P.B. (2019). Using wave runup modeling to inform coastal species management: An example application for sea turtle nest relocation. Journal of Ocean and Coastal Management. 173, 17-25.
NEW PAPER: Influences of the Local Climate on Loggerhead Hatchling Production in North Florida: Implications From Climate Change
The environment and climate in which sea turtle eggs incubate affects how successful and viable hatchlings are. Therefore, it is crucial to understand how local climate impacts sea turtle hatchling production as well as how potential changes in climate may impact future hatchling production. In this study, we investigated the effects of five climate variables at different temporal scales on loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) hatchling production from North Florida, USA. Humidity, air temperature, and accumulated precipitation were the main climatic drivers of hatchling production, while sea surface temperature and wind speed did not demonstrate to have strong effects. Climate projections show air temperatures increasing at the nesting beaches throughout the 21st century, while precipitation and humidity projections vary between sites and projection scenarios. Due to the temperate nature of these nesting beaches, increases in hatching success for nests that incubate undisturbed (not affected by depredation and storm-related impacts) are projected for this region by 2100. This study demonstrates how different climate variables and their interactions can have a determining effect on an important marine species.
Reference: Montero, N., Ceriani, S.A., Graham, K., Fuentes, M. M. P. B. (2018). Influences of the local climate on loggerhead hatchling production in North Florida: Implications from climate change. Frontiers in Marine Science, 5, 262
NEW PAPER: Foraging ecology and diet selection of juvenile green turtles in the Bahamas: insights from stable isotope analysis and prey mapping
Species’ foraging choices influence their somatic growth rates, age at maturity, and time spent in vulnerable early life stages. Thus, differences in population demographics are often attributed to variability either in diet type, quality, and/or quantity ingested. Knowledge of diet selection, though currently limited, can enhance our understanding of the roles of marine turtles in marine ecosystems and, at a finer scale, elucidate how nutrition and diet influence their growth and productivity. To investigate this relationship, we coupled stable isotope analysis with a diet preference index to provide insights into the selection and plasticity of juvenile green turtle Chelonia mydas diet. The study was conducted at 2 sites (Bonefish Hole and South Bimini) in Bimini, Bahamas, in 2016. Habitat surveys were conducted to gather habitat data and determine resource availability. A dichotomy in diet was found between the sites: at Bonefish Hole, turtles exhibited a more generalist omnivorous diet, selecting for sessile filter feeders and green algae, whereas turtles in South Bimini had a more specialist herbivorous diet, primarily consuming seagrasses and selecting for red algae, when available. The foraging dichotomy found in this study expands our understanding of the spatial differences in green turtle biology in the Bahamas and provides novel information for turtle foraging in Bimini. Knowledge about differences in intra-specific diet, with a focus on diet selection and potential drivers, can shed light on the factors that influence critical life history traits and ultimately inform species management.
Gillis, A. J., Ceriani, S. A., Seminoff, J. A., Fuentes, M. M. P. B. (2018). Foraging ecology and diet selection of juvenile green turtles in the Bahamas: insights from stable isotope analysis and prey mapping. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 599, 225-
This summer marks the 3rd field season for Ph.D. candidate Matt Ware at the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Fort Morgan, Alabama working alongside the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Share the Beach, an all-volunteer sea turtle conservation group. It has been a quiet year so far – only 30 nests, when in the last 2 years there have been 94 and 86 nests, respectively. Hatching has started with hatchlings from the only Kemp’s ridley nest on the refuge emerging on Monday 16 July. During the excavation, 108 eggs were found with 87 hatchlings successfully reaching the water. The first loggerhead nest should be hatching any day now.
His research this time around focuses on 1) studying the inundation tolerance of developing sea turtle embryos, and 2) the effect of Leave No Trace ordinances on nesting success. In past years, Matt has investigated the changes in incubation conditions associated with nest relocation and mapping wave runup exposure to identify high-risk nesting locations. To better inform these management strategies and tools, more information is needed on how well developing sea turtle embryos “hold their breath”. How long can embryos remain underwater and still hatch successfully? How does this tolerance vary with the timing of inundation relative to embryonic development and the frequency of inundation? Matt is using HOBO U20L-04 water level loggers to answer these questions, including 2 loggers donated by Onset Computer Corporation. Tropical Storm Alberto arrived in the northern Gulf of Mexico very early in the nesting season, so only 2 nests were affected. The peak of hurricane season is still to come in August and September – and the loggers are ready and waiting. This project has been funded by a Section 6 grant from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
The second component of his research this summer constitutes the final year of data collection on a multi-year project tracking the nesting success across Baldwin County, Alabama. In 2015, the cities of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach enacted Leave No Trace ordinances. The “Leave Only Footprints” program as it is called forces beachgoers to remove their equipment from the beach no later than 1 hour after sunset or face civil penalties. This program does not apply to unincorporated Fort Morgan, and the 2 local protected areas – the Bon Secour NWR and Gulf State Park – already have their own versions of the Leave No Trace ordinance. By comparing nesting data before and after the enactment of the “Leave Only Footprints” program and within each year across the county, Matt will be able to assess if the program has improved nesting success, or at least decreased the frequency of obstructed crawls, in Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.
Unfortunately, on Saturday 14 July, the need for such ordinances was demonstrated when a mature female Kemp’s ridley was found washed up during morning nesting patrol on the Bon Secour NWR apparently strangled by a beach chair. Matt assisted the Alabama Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network in documenting the event and collecting the animal for later necropsy at the NOAA facility in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Images he captured of the turtle quickly went viral on social media and various news outlets. Posts on Matt’s personal Facebook page and the pages of Fort Morgan Share the Beach and the Bon Secour NWR have been viewed over 600,000 times and shared almost 9,000 times with almost 5,000 reactions. Now this’ story on the incident has been viewed 1 million times and shared over 12,000 times. The story was covered in the:
Share the Beach has reached out to the Baldwin and Mobile County commissioners along with the governor of Alabama to urge them to support an expansion of the “Leave Only Footprints” program beyond the city limits. They, and Matt, hope that the images, though graphic, will encourage beachgoers to remove equipment from the beach at the end of the day, discard of damaged equipment properly, and help combat marine debris to prevent future impacts to wildlife.
When not in the field, Matt has been working on several manuscripts detailing his previous research in Alabama. Be on the look-out for his nest relocation manuscript currently in press in Chelonian Conservation and Biology and future manuscript on wave runup mapping.