Characterization of Sea Turtle Nesting on the Upper Texas Coast



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Nearly annual record Kemp?s ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii) nesting activity on the upper Texas coast (UTC; defined as beaches from Sabine Pass to Matagorda Peninsula), where scientifically verifiable nesting commenced in 2002, has occurred concurrently with recent exponential increases in the nesting population of this critically endangered species. Increased likelihood for anthropogenic interaction with this growing assemblage of UTC nesters mandated documentation of nesting activity on rapidly developing UTC beaches and characterization of in-water movements of mature conspecifics.

Standardized sea turtle nesting patrols implemented on the beaches of Bolivar Peninsula, Galveston Island, and Follets Island to quantify nesting activity, as well as associated beach habitat assessments, identified major deterrents to sea turtle reproductive success and established a scientific baseline necessary for resource managers to facilitate the perpetuation of nesting activity. During 2007-2009, weekday ATV and pedestrian patrols of stated beaches during nesting season (1 April ? 15 July) aided the documentation of 15-16 UTC Kemp?s ridley nests annually. Nests were predominantly located on patrolled beaches and represented 8-12% of Texas? annual statewide nesting total. Mean emergence success rate for four clutches incubated in-situ was 91.8%.

Eight nesting females intercepted on UTC beaches, as well as a rehabilitated adult male, were satellite tagged. Spatially- and/or temporally-restricted usage of breeding, internesting, migratory, and/or foraging areas in the northern Gulf of Mexico was identified and warrants further examination to facilitate the implementation of conservation initiatives designed to mitigate associated consequential mortality factors. Female internesting period movements were primarily confined to nearshore waters between Galveston and Matagorda Bays, while post-nesting movements in waters <83 m in depth ranged from Texas to the Florida Keys. Male movements near UTC beaches one year post-release were potentially indicative of breeding. Three years of subsequent monitoring indicated this male established long-term seasonal residency on offshore Louisiana foraging grounds.

Nesting and telemetry data indicate the UTC is becoming increasingly important to the Kemp?s ridley population. However, current regulations do not support the sustainment of the UTC nesting cohort. Management recommendations to simultaneously foster UTC nesting and promote the continued recovery of the Kemp?s ridley sea turtle are provided herein.