The loggerhead sea turtle is a federally threatened species. Loggerhead sea turtles nesting in Alabama are considered part of the northern Gulf of Mexico subpopulation (Franklin County, FL west through TX), which contains the smallest number of nesting females of the recovery units. Data from the Florida Index Nesting Beach Surveys compiled from 1997-2007 indicate a likely decline in numbers of nests per year.
The loggerhead sea turtle project is coordinated by Dr. Mariana Fuentes at Florida State University in collaboration with Florida State University, Share the Beach sea turtle volunteer organization, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. It will explore the effects of loggerhead sea turtle nest relocation on hatchling production and nest success on Alabama beaches; how this contributes to the reproductive output of northern Gulf of Mexico loggerhead sea turtle recovery unit; and will describe the local incubating environment.
Successful incubation of sea turtle eggs depends on the presence of suitable incubating conditions (e.g. temperature, humidity, salinity) in the sand. A microclimate suitable for incubation is generated by the interaction between physical characteristics of the sand composition (e.g. grain size), physical structure of the beach (e.g. morphology), and local environmental conditions (e.g. temperature). Variation in these conditions, which can result from nests being laid at different locations within a beach, can affect hatchling success, sex ratio, and morphology. Further, the location of nests within a beach can also influence their exposure to various threats such as inundation and predation. Thus, nest site selection can affect incubation of eggs, hatchling success and emergence, and reproductive output of a nest.
To gain knowledge of the incubation environment in Alabama, provide important information to guide nest relocation practices, and identify threatened nests with greater precision, this project will have three components:
- Describe the incubating environment of nests both in situ and relocated, and identify suitable areas for relocation.
- Determine whether nests are being relocated to areas with similar incubating environments.
- Quantify hatchling and emergence success of nests (in situ and relocated) and explore their differences as a result of different incubating environments.
Information from the project will be used to inform effective nest relocation practices, describe the incubating environment of in situ and relocated nests, identify suitable areas for relocation, quantify hatching and emergence success of nests, and explore the variability in function of the incubating environments.
Data collected on the factors that influence hatching and emergence success of loggerhead sea turtle nests in Alabama and the descriptive information of the nesting environment will be valuable for guiding nest relocation practices in the state. Data from this project will provide necessary information directly relevant for planning the long-term persistence and recovery of the species.
Results will contribute to the recovery status of the northern Gulf of Mexico loggerhead recovery unit for the NW Atlantic population of the loggerhead sea turtle as the proposed activities align with recovery actions to achieve the goals and objectives of the Recovery Plan and monitoring necessary to track the status of the species.