Abstract

Marine turtles in the Gulf of Mexico are at risk due to many anthropogenic threats including habitat degradation, commercial fishing, and petroleum activities. The severity of this risk was made apparent in 2010 with the occurrence of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The objectives of this study were to assess long-term trends in abundance and reproductive parameters for this genetically distinct nesting group. From 1994 to 2010, morning surveys were conducted along 3 beaches on the St Joseph Peninsula, Florida, including within our primary study site on Cape San Blas. Nest abundance on all 3 beaches declined by at least 47% (p < 0.01). Mean nesting success on Cape San Blas was 40% and also declined (p  =  0.002). Mean clutch size was 108 and mean emergence success was 58%. Throughout the study there were no changes in clutch size and emergence success. We found that nesting characteristics for the northern Gulf of Mexico subpopulation appear similar to those from other loggerhead turtle nesting groups in the southeastern United States in some ways, such as emergence success, timing of peak nesting, and incubation duration and different in other ways such as nesting success. Variation in some of the parameters may indicate turtles among the different nesting groups experience different environmental conditions. The severity of declines in nest abundance and the low nesting success reported for this small subpopulation suggest potentially serious consequences for this nesting group.

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