Abstract

Leatherback turtles in the Pacific Ocean have declined precipitously in recent decades. One issue that may be contributing to the declines of leatherbacks and impairing their recovery is low clutch viability resulting from high embryonic mortality. Here, we examine trace metal concentrations in eggs and hatchlings from leatherbacks nesting on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica to assess whether contaminant levels reflect variation in the time over which females accumulated contaminants and whether variation in egg contaminant concentrations among nests influences clutch viability and hatchling characteristics. Eggs and hatchlings of Pacific leatherbacks contained detectable concentrations of a suite of essential and nonessential metals including Cu, Cd, Fe, Mn, Ni, and Zn, but variables that likely reflect a female's degree of temporal exposure to contaminants (relative age of female, body size, and remigration interval) explained little of the variation in egg metal concentrations. Concentrations of Cu, Cd, Fe, and Ni in Pacific leatherbacks were higher or toward the upper range of metal levels examined in sea turtle eggs elsewhere, but we did not find evidence linking egg contaminant levels with clutch success or hatchling size or body condition. These results represent the most comprehensive measures of trace metal concentrations from leatherback turtles in the eastern Pacific Ocean.

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