Scielo RSS <![CDATA[Latin american journal of aquatic research]]> vol. 45 num. 3 lang. en <![CDATA[SciELO Logo]]> <![CDATA[<b>Filling the gaps in sea turtle research and conservation in the region where it began</b>: <b>Latin America</b>]]> The first documented long-term sea turtle research and conservation project in the world was officially launched in Latin America (Tortuguero, Costa Rica) in 1955. Despite the enormous advances in research and conservation in the nearly seven decades since, many questions still remain unanswered about fundamental aspects of ecology and population dynamics that hinder the conservation of sea turtles in the region. To catalyze further dissemination of information and improvement of sea turtle conservation, this Special Issue presents 10 papers solely focused on studies conducted in Latin America. This Special Issue resulted from an initiative launched to celebrate the 36th Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation, held in Peru in March 2016 -the first time this event was held in South America. The articles featured present novel results for four of the five species of sea turtles present in this region, with data collected as far back as 1971 and as recent as 2016. The studies cover diverse subjects including the nesting ecology for the most endangered populations of sea turtles in the world -the Eastern Pacific hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea); the origins and connectivity of nesting and foraging populations of hawksbills and green turtles (Chelonia mydas); the detection of a new foraging ground for hawksbills in the Eastern Pacific; and the pervasive occurrence of incidental capture as well as illegal retention of sea turtles. The recovery of these imperiled marine reptiles relies on information to design and implement sound conservation actions; in this regard, the papers in this Special Issue are making a vital contribution, following the initial efforts launched nearly 70 years ago. <![CDATA[<b>Genetic composition and origin of juvenile green turtles foraging at Culebra, Puerto Rico, as revealed by mtDNA</b>]]> Marine migratory species encounter a range of threats as they move through coastal and oceanic zones. Understanding the connectivity and dispersal patterns of such species is critical to their effective conservation. Here we analyzed the temporal genetic composition and the most likely origin of juvenile green turtles foraging at Puerto Manglar and Tortuga Bay, Culebra, Puerto Rico, using mitochondrial DNA control region sequences. We identified 17 haplotypes, of which CM-A3 (51.5%), CM-A5 (19.4%) and CM-A1 (13.6%) were the most common. Haplotype (h) and nucleotide (π) diversities were 0.680 and 0.008, respectively. There was no evidence of significant variation in the genetic composition of these aggregations throughout seven years (2000-2006), suggesting that relative contributions from source populations did not significantly change during this period. Mixed Stock Analysis (MSA), incorporating 14 Atlantic nesting populations as possible sources, indicated four main contributing stocks to the Culebra foraging grounds: Costa Rica (34.9%), Mexico (29.2%), East Central Florida (13.2%), and Suriname (12.0%). The regional pattern of connectivity among Wider Caribbean rookeries and Culebra was further evidenced by a second MSA using Atlantic Regional Management Units (RMUs) as sources, with 94.1% of the mixed stock attributed to this area. This study addresses the information gap on the connectivity of the green turtle in the North Atlantic, and establishes an important baseline that can be used to determine future changes in stock composition. <![CDATA[<b>Survival on the rocks</b>: <b>high bycatch in lobster gillnet fisheries threatens hawksbill turtles on rocky reefs along the Eastern Pacific coast of Central America</b>]]> Small-scale coastal fisheries can cause detrimental impacts to non-target megafauna through bycatch. This can be particularly true when high-use areas for such species overlap with fishing grounds, as is the case with hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) aggregations at lobster gillnet fishing sites in El Salvador and Nicaragua. We quantified hawksbill bycatch by partnering with local fishers to record data for 690 gillnet sets on rocky reefs at Los Cobanos Reef Marine Protected Area (2008-2009) and Punta Amapala (2012-2014) in El Salvador, and La Salvia (2012-2014) in Nicaragua. Based on 31 observed hawksbill captures, the mean bycatch-per-unit-effort (0.0022; individuals per set = 0.0450) and mortality (0.74) are among the highest reported for the species across fishing gear types and oceanic regions worldwide, and we conservatively estimate that at least 227 juvenile hawksbill captures occurred in lobster gillnet fishing fleets at our sites during the study. Estimated mortality for the 227 hawksbills -which could approach the 74% observed mortality of total captures-from interactions with lobster gillnet fisheries at these sites during the study period may constitute the greatest single source of human-induced in-water mortality for juvenile, sub-adult, and adult hawksbills in the eastern Pacific, and is of grave concern to the population. Based on our findings, we discuss neritic habitat use by hawksbills during their 'lost years' and offer recommendations for bycatch reduction strategies, including community-based efforts to enhance sustainable self-governance via the establishment of locally crafted conservationist norms and marine protected areas at important developmental habitat. <![CDATA[<b>Ecology, health and genetic characterization of the southernmost green turtle (<i>Chelonia mydas</i>) aggregation in the Eastern Pacific</b>: <b>implications for local conservation strategies</b>]]> Bahia Salado, located in northern Chile (27°41' S, 70°59'W), is the southernmost foraging ground for the endangered green turtle (Chelonia mydas) in the Eastern Pacific Ocean (EPO). To date, almost no information exists on its current status, nor on its connectivity with nesting rookeries in the EPO. This study aims to inform on the genetic characterization, health and ecology of Bahia Salado's green turtle aggregation in order to provide baseline information for local conservation strategies. We describe population structure and residency times using mark-recapture method. We also examine health parameters (body condition index, blood profile and blood copper-Cu and lead-Pb concentrations) and regional connectivity through genetic analyses. Our results indicate that this aggregation is composed exclusively of juveniles, with residency times varying between five to sixteen months. Turtles exhibited a very good body condition; however they showed the highest blood concentrations of Cu and Pb described for C. mydas and for almost all sea turtle species. Some biochemistry parameters (albumin, calcium, phosphorus, AST, triglycerides and creatinine) are also the highest ever reported for this species in the region. Analysis of the 770 bp (base pairs) control region of the mitochondrial DNA revealed four haplotypes, suggesting a strong genetic connectivity to the Galapagos rookery. Our study indicates that Bahia Salado's aggregation represents a developmental foraging ground, where juvenile green turtles thrive. Although Bahia Salado's ecosystem seems to be a very suitable habitat for the species, the high levels of Cu and Pb, together with elevated AST, demand further research on the negative impacts of heavy metals on this aggregation. Our results highlight the importance to protect this bay from anthropological activities, evaluate pollution sources and other local threats to this particular coastal ecosystem. We recommend year-round monitoring of the green turtle aggregation and other components of this ecosystem, incorporating participation of local seaweed collectors and the fishing community. <![CDATA[<b>Genetic characterization of the Critically Endangered hawksbill turtle (<i>Eretmochelys imbricata</i>) from the Mexican Pacific region</b>]]> The hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) is a Critically Endangered species and has been a species of interest for decades. Only in recent years attention has been focused on the populations of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. We present a genetic characterization of this species in the Mexican Pacific, based on mitochondrial DNA sequences. Six localities were sampled along the Pacific Coast, from the Gulf of California to Chiapas, between 2002 and 2007. Seventeen individuals found in marine habitats at six localities and six nests laid at three nesting sites were sampled along the Mexican Pacific. Our results show five haplotypes of 766 bp, three previously identified and two that to date were not reported. Genetic diversity indices indicate moderate to low variation for this region. Even with the small sample size reported here, our results show important relationships between the Mexican Pacific hawksbills and nesting populations of Central America and foraging areas along the Eastern and Indo-Pacific. These results, along with updated information on ecology and behavior, are essential for the future approach to conservation and management programs resulting in the recovery of this species in the Eastern Pacific. <![CDATA[<b>Secondary nesting beaches for leatherback turtles on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica</b>]]> Leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) have declined dramatically in the eastern Pacific Ocean (EP) in recent decades. Traditionally, population assessments have relied on the numbers of turtles on the beaches with the highest abundance of turtles (index beaches) and often disregarded the importance of nesting beaches with smaller, but still regular, numbers of nesting turtles (secondary beaches). We characterize leatherback nesting on secondary beaches throughout Pacific Costa Rica. Nesting distribution was significantly reduced since the 1990s and it currently appears to be constricted to the Santa Elena and Nicoya peninsulas. Over the past five years, nesting abundance on secondary beaches was low, ranging between 0.4 ± 0.5 and 5.3 ± 1.5 females and 3.8 ± 5.2 and 22.8 ± 10.8 nests per beach and per year. There was some exchange of turtles between beaches. The exchange rate (percentage of females that nested at least once on a different beach) ranged between 7% and 28%. While Caletas still registers multiple clutches that are laid by 1 -2 females in some years, it may no longer qualify as a secondary beach due to the infrequent nature of nesting events registered recently and the total absence of nests in some of those years. Although nesting abundance is relatively low at secondary beaches, they host at least ~25% of total leatherback nesting abundance in Costa Rica. As the EP leatherback turtle declines, not only do the numbers of nesting turtles decrease but local extirpations are occurring on, previously categorized, secondary beaches. The critically low number of turtles at present may prevent recolonization of sites where they have been extirpated. <![CDATA[<b>Living on the Edge</b>: <b>Hawksbill turtle nesting and conservation along the Eastern Pacific Rim</b>]]> Prior to 2007, efforts to monitor and conserve hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) in the eastern Pacific Ocean were opportunistic and records were virtually non-existent. The first abundance estimates were published in 2010, but contained limited data on the species. Ongoing research since that time has led to the identification of several rookeries, including sites containing large proportions of the overall hawksbill nesting currently known to occur in the region. Monitoring projects were established at several sites and have since provided substantial nesting data on the species. Here we summarize data collected between 1983 and March 2016 from all sites (n = 9) confirmed to host >10 nests in any given season to provide an update on hawksbill nesting in the eastern Pacific. We documented a total of 3,508 hawksbill nests, 265,024 hatchlings and 528 individual nesting females in the region. The vast majority of these records (99.4%, 99.9% and 99.6%, respectively) were generated subsequent to 2007, coinciding with the discovery of eight of the nine rookeries included in this study and the organization of monitoring efforts at those sites, which led to the increased documentation conferred here. Our findings should not be misconstrued as increases in actual nesting or signs of recovery, which could diminish the ongoing need for conservation actions, but rather as optimism, that there is still an opportunity to restore the species in the eastern Pacific. The top three sites in terms of average annual number of nests were Estero Padre Ramos (Nicaragua; 213.2 ± 47.6 nests), Bahia de Jiquilisco (El Salvador; 168.5 ± 46.7 nests) and Aserradores (Nicaragua; 100.0 ± 24.0 nests), and all three sites are located in mangrove estuaries in Central America, highlighting the importance of these rookeries/habitats for the survival and recovery of hawksbills in the region. The remaining six sites received between 6.9 ± 7.3 nests (Costa Careyes, Mexico) and 59.3 ± 17.7 nests (Los Cobanos, El Salvador) annually. By integrating data collected on nesting hawksbills with local conservation realities at the most important known hawksbill rookeries in the eastern Pacific, we provide a more holistic view of the conservation status and management needs of the species in this ocean region. <![CDATA[<b>Feeding ecology of the green turtle <i>Chelonia mydas</i> in northern Peru</b>]]> Diet and food preferences of the green turtle Chelonia mydas were analyzed based on digestive tract contents of dead specimens caught incidentally by an artisanal gillnet fishery in Sechura Bay, northern Peru. We examined 27 digestive tracts and identified 35 prey items. The sampled turtles were all juveniles (CCL = 53.7 ± 1.2 cm, range 40.5-67.0 cm). The prey items were grouped into six categories: algae, cnidarians, mollusks, arthropods, chordates and garbage/anthropogenic debris. The items with the highest Frequency of Occurrence values (% FO) were: Caulerpa filiformis (77.8%), Loligo gahi (eggs) (51.9%) and Rhodymenia corallina (44.4%). By weight (% W), the most important items, were L. gahi (eggs) (33.3%), Stomolophus sp. (7.3%) and Aphosporosus (6.5%). According to the Preponderance Index (%IP), the preponderant item was L. gahi (eggs) with 6.1% and 61.2% during winter-spring and summer-autumn, respectively. According to the Resultant Weight index (Rw) of wet items, the most important items were: C. filiformis (13.1%), L. gahi (eggs) (10.5%), R. corallina (7.4%), plastic (7.5%), Gigartina chamissoi (5.1%). Garbage/anthropogenic debris was common in the digestive tracts analyzed. Plastic items had a frequency of occurrence of 44.4%. A greater diversity of food items was observed during summer and autumn. This study shows that juvenile C. mydas forage on a variety of resources. We recommend that conservation plans, land use planning and future management plans in the Sechura Bay include green turtles as a sentinel species for monitoring biodiversity of marine resources and the degree of pollution in the Bay. <![CDATA[<b>Distribution, size range and growth rates of hawksbill turtles at a major foraging ground in the eastern Pacific Ocean</b>]]> Hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) inhabiting the eastern Pacific Ocean are one of the world's most threatened marine turtle management units. Despite the fact that knowledge about the status of sea turtles at foraging grounds is a key element for developing the effective conservation strategies, comprehensive studies of hawksbills at foraging habitats in the eastern Pacific remain lacking. For many years anecdotal information indicated Coiba Island National Park in Panama as a potentially important hawksbill foraging ground, which led to the initiation of monitoring surveys in September 2014. Ongoing mark-recapture surveys to assess population status, generate demographic data and identify key foraging sites have been conducted every six months in the park since that time. To date, a total of six monitoring campaigns consisting of four days each have been conducted, leading to the capture and tagging of 186 hawksbills, 51 of which were recaptured at least once. The size range of captured individuals was 30.0 to 75.5 cm and largely comprised of juveniles. Somatic growth rates of individual hawksbills were highly variable, ranging from -0.78 to 7.1 cm year-1. To our knowledge, these are the first published growth rates for juvenile hawksbill turtles in the eastern Pacific Ocean. When these growth data are combined with information on hawksbill demography and distribution, our findings indicate Coiba Island National Park is one of the most important known foraging sites for hawksbill sea turtles in the eastern Pacific Ocean. <![CDATA[<b>Incidental capture of sea turtles in the artisanal gillnet fishery in Sechura Bay, northern Peru</b>]]> Gillnets are recognized globally as one of the fishing gears with the highest levels of bycatch and mortality of sea turtles. Through onboard observer monitoring from July 2013 to June 2014 we assessed the bycatch of sea turtles by an artisanal gillnet fishery operating from Sechura Bay, Peru. One hundred and four sea turtles were incidentally caught in 53 observed fishing sets. The observed species composition of bycatch was green turtle Chelonia mydas (n = 100), hawksbill Eretmochelys imbricata (n = 3) and olive ridley Lepidochelys olivacea (n = 1). Bycatch occurred in 62.3% of monitored sets, with an average of 1.96 turtles caught per set. For all sea turtles combined, 28.8% of individuals were dead and 71.2% were alive at the time of retrieval. The majority of individuals caught were classified as juveniles and sub-adults, with an average carapace length (CCL) of 57.3 ± 0.9 cm for green turtles and 40.2 ± 2.4 cm for hawksbills. The mean annual catch per unit effort (CPUE) of sea turtles was 1.11 ± 0.31 turtles km-1 12 h-1), but varied by seasons. These results suggest that Sechura Bay is an important developmental habitat for juvenile and sub-adult green turtles and hawksbill turtles, but one subject to intense fishing interaction pressure. The development of monitoring programs, local awareness-raising activities, and enhanced management and protection of this critical foraging area and developmental habitat is recommended. <![CDATA[<b>Illegal capture and black market trade of sea turtles in Pisco, Peru</b>: <b>the never-ending story</b>]]> The Pisco-San Andres area (13°44'S, 76°13'W) in central Peru is known for a traditional historic sea turtle fishery. To determine if illegal captures and black market trade exist, we carried out bi-weekly sampling in dumpsites and coastal areas from 2009 to 2015. A total of 953 carapaces were encountered, which included mainly black turtles (Chelonia mydas, 92.2%) and to a lesser extent, olive ridley turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea, 4.3%), leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea, 1.4%), and a single hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate, 0.1%). The mean curved carapace length (CCL) was 59.1 for black turtles, 60.4 for olive ridleys and 113 cm for leatherbacks. For all species, most of turtles reported were juveniles and came largely from illegal captures (89%) and not from stranding reports (1.4%). Mean mortality was 8.1 carcasses km-1 year-1 at beaches and 160.2 carcasses year-1 at dumpsites. Main consumed prey items in black turtles were silverside fish eggs (47.9%), Chondracanthus seaweed (31.4%) and Paranthus sp., anemone (16.2%). Despite the big sampling effort, mortality estimates could be underestimated since big percentages are butchered and discarded at sea. Still, numbers remains high with almost 1000 turtles in a five-year period and an illegal trade persists. Urgent measures are needed to recover this endangered species.