Abstract

The in-water status of green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico has received comparatively little attention in the management and conservation of this species in US waters. We addressed this void via entanglement netting surveys at 3 estuarine areas (Lavaca-Matagorda Bay, the Aransas Bay complex, and the lower Laguna Madre [LLM]) to assess trends in the relative abundance, distribution, and size composition of green turtles in Texas inshore waters during 1991–2010. Overall catch per unit effort (CPUE) in the LLM (1.5 turtles/km-hr) was significantly higher than that observed in the other 2 estuaries and corresponded to general climate patterns and seagrass areal coverage along the Texas coast. Yearly CPUE of green turtles from the LLM exhibited a significant exponential increase from 1991 to 2010, despite variability in capture rate during recent years. Mean straight carapace length (SCL) of green turtles was statistically similar across the 3 study areas and indicative of dominance by juvenile individuals (LLM mean  =  42.2 cm SCL). Historical green turtle size data in the LLM also reveal an overall decreasing trend in mean SCL and shift toward an increased percentage of smaller individuals (30–39.9- and 40–49.9-cm SCL size classes). Also, sighting frequency of postpelagic green turtles at the Brazos-Santiago Pass jetties within the LLM during 2009 was roughly 9 times that reported for comparable months during 1992–1993. These results are indicative of enhanced recruitment of neritic green turtles to the northwestern Gulf of Mexico, most likely due to elevated nesting productivity at beaches in Mexico, Florida, the Caribbean, and the western Atlantic. Overall, the lower Texas coast serves as an important developmental foraging habitat for an increasing population of juvenile green turtles in the northwestern Gulf of Mexico.

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