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Satellite tracking highlights difficulties in the design of effective protected areas for Critically Endangered leatherback turtles Dermochelys coriacea during the inter-nesting period

  • Matthew J. Witt (a1), Annette C. Broderick (a1), Michael S. Coyne (a2), Angela Formia (a3), Solange Ngouessono (a4), Richard J. Parnell (a5), Guy-Philippe Sounguet (a6) and Brendan J. Godley (a1)...

The globally distributed leatherback turtle Dermochelys coriacea is subject to fisheries bycatch throughout its range. Protection from fisheries within pelagic foraging habitats is difficult to achieve but may be more tractable when populations are concentrated near neritic breeding and nesting grounds. We used satellite telemetry to describe patterns of habitat utilization during the inter-nesting period for seven leatherback turtles nesting at Mayumba National Park in Gabon on the equatorial West African coast. The National Park includes critical nesting grounds and a marine protected area to 15 km offshore. Turtles dispersed widely from the nesting beach spending a mean of 62 ± SD 26% of tracking time outside the confines of the National Park. This propensity to disperse is likely to increase the chance of deleterious interactions with fisheries in the region. Patterns of habitat utilization indicate the need for wider spatial scale planning on the West African continental shelf to enhance protection of leatherback turtles when they are seasonally occupying these habitats in great numbers for breeding and nesting.

Corresponding author
*Marine Turtle Research Group, Centre for Ecology & Conservation, University of Exeter - Cornwall Campus, Penryn, Cornwall, TR10 9EZ, UK. E-mail
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