Spatial Ecology of Inter- and Post-nesting Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas) on Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea

2019-06-10T18:35:23Z (GMT) by Emily K Mettler

Effective conservation strategies for sea turtles require knowledge of animal movements and protection of biologically important habitats and life history stages. For breeding adult sea turtles, understanding both their inshore and pelagic spatial patterns is imperative to the successful protection of the species and the accurate identification of their vulnerabilities. This study provides insight into the inter-nesting, post-nesting, and foraging movements of green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) that nest on Bioko Island, Equatorial Guinea, by using satellite telemetry to track green turtles (n=12) during two nesting seasons (2017-18, 2018-19), and as they migrated to foraging grounds after the nesting season. These tracks were fit with a switching state space model to characterize movements, and then analyzed in relation to environmental and anthropogenic factors. Dive depth data was also used to determine utilization patterns within the water column. The 12 tagged turtles migrated for an average of 1064 km to two distinct foraging grounds, with 10 migrating west for an average of 1115 km to the coastal waters of Ghana, and 2 migrating south for an average of 1563 km to the coastal waters of Angola. Migrating turtles used both direct, pelagic migration strategies, and biphasal, coastal strategies, which included intermittent foraging throughout migrations. Dive depths varied depending on behavior, with an average of 19.3 m during inter-nesting, 12.6 m during migration and 8.5 m during foraging. Knowledge of inter-nesting habitat use, migration patterns, and foraging ground locations will be critical for the development of marine conservation management plans in the Gulf of Guinea and aide in sea turtle conservation efforts throughout the area. Additionally, spatial and dive depth data can inform zonal fishing regulators and provide information needed for modifications to fishing practices and gear that is most likely to reduce sea turtle bycatch. These data will provide a more complete understanding of marine areas critical to sea turtle conservation and aide in sustainable economic development in the Gulf of Guinea.