The leatherback turtle Dermochelys coriacea is considered to be at serious risk of global extinction, despite ongoing conservation efforts. Intensive long-term monitoring of a leatherback nesting population on Sandy Point (St. Croix, US Virgin Islands) offers a unique opportunity to quantify basic population parameters and evaluate effectiveness of nesting beach conservation practices. We report a significant increase in the number of females nesting annually from ca. 18–30 in the 1980s to 186 in 2001, with a corresponding increase in annual hatchling production from ca. 2000 to over 49,000. We then analyzed resighting data from 1991 to 2001 with an open robust-design capture–mark–recapture model to estimate annual nester survival and adult abundance for this population. The expected annual survival probability was estimated at ca. 0.893 (95% CI: 0.87–0.92) and the population was estimated to be increasing ca. 13% pa since the early 1990s. Taken together with DNA fingerprinting that identify mother–daughter relations, our findings suggest that the increase in the size of the nesting population since 1991 was probably due to an aggressive program of beach protection and egg relocation initiated more than 20 years ago. Beach protection and egg relocation provide a simple and effective conservation strategy for this Northern Caribbean nesting population as long as adult survival at sea remains relatively high.
Biological Conservation – Elsevier
Published: Nov 1, 2005
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