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Global Ecology and Conservation

A Long-term Decline in the Abundance of Endangered Leatherback Turtles, Dermochelys coriacea, at a Foraging Ground in the California Current Ecosystem

Benson, S.R., K.A. Forney, J.E. Moore, E.L. LaCasella, J.T. Harvey, and J.V. Carretta (December 2020)

Global Ecology and Conservation 24:e01371

DOI: 10.1016/j.gecco.2020.e01371


Pacific leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) are critically endangered, and declines have been documented at multiple nesting sites throughout the Pacific. The western Pacific leatherback forages in temperate and tropical waters of the Indo-Pacific region, and about 38–57% of summer-nesting females from the largest remaining nesting population in Papua Barat (Indonesia) migrate to distant foraging grounds off the U.S. West Coast, including neritic waters off central California. In this study, we examined the trend in leatherback abundance off central California from 28 years of aerial survey data from coast-wide and adaptive fine-scale surveys. We used a Bayesian hierarchical analysis framework, including a process model of leatherback population density and an observation model relating leatherback observations to distance sampling methods. We also used time-depth data from biologgers deployed on 21 foraging leatherback turtles in the study area to account for detection biases associated with diving animals. Our results indicate that leatherback abundance has declined at an annual rate of −5.6% (95% credible interval −9.8% to −1.5%), without any marked changes in ocean conditions or prey availability. These results are similar to the nesting population trends of −5.9% and −6.1% per year estimated at Indonesian index beaches, which comprise 75% of western Pacific nesting activity. Combined, the declining trends underscore the need for coordinated international conservation efforts and long-term population monitoring to avoid extirpation of western Pacific leatherback turtles.


Reviewed: September 08, 2023
Web Site Owner: National Ocean Service

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