Abstract

Sea turtle nest relocation is a management strategy commonly used to mitigate hatchling mortality, particularly that due to wave wash-over and tidal groundwater inundation. Relocation can alter the incubation environment, so there is concern regarding potential modifications to embryonic development. Several studies have explored the effects of relocation on nest productivity; however, these studies often only compare reproductive output and incubation environments between relocated and in situ nests without accounting for the incubating environment of the original nest location. We assessed the differences in sand temperature, inundation exposure, grain size, and moisture content between the original and final locations of relocated nests at a loggerhead (Caretta caretta) nesting beach in Fort Morgan, Alabama, as well as differences in nest productivity between in situ and relocated nests. Differences in mean sand temperature, likelihood of inundation, and sand moisture between original–relocated locations and in situ–relocated nests were not significant. Emergence success was significantly lower in relocated vs. in situ nests, and sand grain distributions were significantly different between original and relocated nest locations. Given that relocation did not improve nest productivity nor reduce the likelihood of inundation, this practice conferred minimal net benefit to sea turtle nests on dissipative-to-intermediate beach conditions typical of the northern Gulf of Mexico. To improve the justification for nest relocation under these beach conditions, a better understanding of embryonic tolerance to inundation and clarification of relocation criteria and guidelines is required.

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