National Park Service

South Florida/Caribbean I&M Network (SFCN)

Sea Turtles Monitoring

Sea Turtle in Biscayne National Park.
Sea Turtle in Biscayne National Park.

Protocol

Posters

Links

Importance/Issues

Four species of sea turtles nest on beaches within SFCN parks, all of which are federally endangered or threatened. The most prevalent species are the hawksbill, green, and loggerhead sea turtles with occasional leatherbacks. Nesting activities on historic turtle nesting beaches reflect the habitat quality of the nesting beaches, species population dynamics and health of local and regional seagrass beds, coral reef areas, and oceanic areas. Sea turtles may return to their natal nesting beaches to nest every 2–3 years. Some juvenile and adult sea turtles remain in the general area and are affected by stressors and management within the park. Currently, the greatest threats to sea turtle populations include loss of nesting beaches, degradation in quality of nesting beaches, nest predation, degradation in quality of foraging habitats, collisions with boats, being trapped in fishing gear or trash, and disease. Artificial lighting may be an issue at VIIS, but is not an issue at other SFCN parks.

Monitoring Objectives

  • What are the status and trends by species in the number of sea turtle nests, distribution of nests, proportion of aborted nest crawls, nesting outcome, # eggs laid/nest, hatching success, and recruitment?
  • What are the status and trends in the population size of nesting sea turtles (at BUIS only)?

Status and Trends

Buck Island Reef National Monument has been involved in an on-going sea turtle monitoring program. Their latest poster, Buck Island Sea Turtle Research Project 1988–2009, includes breeding and nesting statistics.

Approach

The parks currently monitor sea turtle nesting and report their annual results to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) as part of the endangered species program. SFCN will not be doing any monitoring, but as desired will provide assistance to park resource managers with developing multi–year indicators to be reported in park reports as well as the SFCN web page. All parks are also requesting assistance with database development. Buck Island Reef National Monument (BUIS) is working with SFCN to upgrade their database and include report queries for multi-year reporting. The SFCN data manager will continue to help with data base updates and modifications.

Buck Island Reef National Monument
Has an intensive nightly monitoring program which identifies and tags each female that comes ashore in addition to nesting information. They are also conducting a juvenile sea turtle in coral reef habitat monitoring protocol initiated under the prototype Inventory and Monitoring Program in which juvenile/subadult sea turtles are captured by divers, tagged, and data on growth, foraging, distribution and residency collected. The program ran from 1994–2002 and started again in 2008. The BUIS protocol is available at the USGS Wetland and Aquatic Research Center page.

Biscayne National Park and Virgin Islands National Park
Are using a reduced version of the protocol in which they are conducting daytime track and nest surveys. Thus they collect the nest information similar to BUIS, but details on individual nesting females are not collected. All have requested assistance with database development.

Dry Tortugas National Park and Everglades National Park
Monitoring at DRTO and EVER had lapsed for several years but has started again. DRTO has funded for a USGS sea turtle tracking project to see relationships with local habitat use and movement.

At Salt River Bay Historical Park and Ecological Preserve

The Virgin Islands Division of Fish and Wildlife has conducted daytime nest surveys. Park staff will take over with weekly surveys once they have the staff.

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Last Updated: March 27, 2017 Contact Webmaster