ABSTRACT

In Brazil, the only area where regular leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) nesting is known to occur is located on the northern coast of the state of Espírito Santo, around latitude 19°S. In this study, we present the field methods used by Projeto TAMAR-IBAMA (the Brazilian Sea Turtle Conservation Program) in the state of Espírito Santo and analyze data on leatherback nesting from 1988–1989 to 2003–2004. In that period, 527 nests were observed in the study area. The annual number of nests varied between 6 (in 1993–1994) and 92 (in 2002–2003). Between 1995–1996 and 20032004, the annual number of nests increased at about 20.4% per year on average. Among the 527 clutches observed, 358 (67.9%) were left in situ, 50 (9.5%) were relocated to another spot on the beach, 88 (16.7%) were relocated to open-air beach hatcheries, and 31 clutches (5.9%) did not have their management decision recorded. Curved carapace length of nesting females was in the range of 139–182 cm (mean = 159.8 cm). At present, there is no significant alteration of the nesting habitat in Espírito Santo, egg poaching has been reduced to very low levels, and there is no subsistence hunting for sea turtles of any species. The main challenges to leatherback conservation currently are the incidental capture in artisanal fisheries operating close to nesting beaches and in high seas fisheries operating in the South Atlantic, as well as activities related to the oil industry. An overview of Projeto TAMAR's actions addressing current sea turtle conservation issues in the State of Espírito Santo is presented.

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