Reproductive success of sea turtles nesting on Wabasso Beach, East-Central Florida

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


During the summers of 1988 and 1989, nests of 528 loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta), 27 green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas), and 1 leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) were monitored on Wabasso Beach in Indian River County, Florida. Two hundred and forty four of the loggerhead and 2 of the green sea turtle nests were marked during night surveys as the females laid their clutches, permitting exact clutch counts and carapace measurements on the nesting females. Each marked nest was inspected daily for signs of disturbance and hatching. After incubation (70 days), study nests were excavated and inventoried to determine hatchling emergence success. Parametric multiple regressions, nonparametric multiple regressions, and logistic regressions were used to determine the effects of several measured variables on clutch sizes and incubation times; and nesting, hatchling emergence success, and predation. Excluding the last 2 weeks of the nesting season, nesting was positively correlated with ocean temperatures (P< 0.05), but not with human beach-side development (P> 0.05). Nesting loggerheads on the study area had an average carapace length of 89.8 cm (S.E.=0.31), and a mean clutch size of 112 eggs (S.E.=1.07). Clutches required an average of 53.9 days (S.E.=0.21) to incubate during 1988, with a hatchling emergence success of 57%. During 1989, the mean incubation time and hatchling emergence success was 51.5 days (S.E.=0.21) and 44%, respectively. Over the 2 study years, the average green turtle nest had 118 eggs, took 54.6 days to incubate, and had a hatchling emergence success of 40%. During 1988, 4.6% of the loggerhead nests were lost to beach erosion or alteration (deposition of sand on nests by the surf). This loss was 22% during 1989 for loggerheads, and 30% over both years for green turtles. The difference in loggerhead losses over the 2 years was due to 2 late-season hurricanes which affected the area during 1989. Predation on loggerhead nests was 16% and 8% during 1988 and 1989, respectively. In both years, predation was positively correlated with human beach-side development (P<0.05); during 1989, predation also was positively correlated with distance of the nest from the beach dune (P< 0.05). Clutch size and carapace size of nesting females were positively correlated (P< 0.05). Incubation time was negatively correlated with egg laying date, and hatchling emergence success was strongly affected by the late summer storms of 1989. The study area produced an estimated 70,469 loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings per year (8,808 hatchlings/km), and 535 green sea turtle hatchlings per year (66 hatchlings/km). The number of loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings produced per nest was adversely affected by beach-side development.