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Spatial Dynamics of Sea Turtle Abundance and Shrimping Intensity in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico

Carrie J McDaniel, Duke University Marine Laboratory
Larry B Crowder, Duke University Marine Laboratory
Jeffery A Priddy, Duke University Marine Laboratory

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Abstract

In order to examine the scientific feasibility of area closures for sea turtle protection, we determined the spatial dynamics of sea turtles for the U.S. Gulf of Mexico by analyzing National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) aerial survey data in September, October, and November of 1992, 1993, and 1994. Turtle sightings were grouped into depth zones and NMFS fishery statistical zones, and strip transect methods were used to estimate the relative abundance of sea turtles in each subzone. Average shrimping intensity was calculated for each subzone for all months of 1992, 1993, and 1994, as well as for the months and locations of the aerial survey. The spatial overlap of sea turtle abundance and shrimping intensity suggested regions where interactions are likely to occur. Sea turtles were observed at much higher rates along the coast of Florida than in the Western Gulf; the highest density of sea turtles was observed in the Florida Keys region (0.525 turtles/km2). Shrimping intensity was highest in the Western Gulf along the coast of Texas and Louisiana, for both annual and fall estimates. Among alternative management scenarios, area closures in conjunction with continued Turtle Excluder Device (TED) requirements would probably best prevent sea turtles from future extinction. By implementing shrimping closures off of South Padre Island, Texas, a potential second nesting population of Kemp's ridleys (Lepidochelys kempi) could be protected. Closing waters where shrimping intensity is low and sea turtle abundance is high (e.g., South Florida waters) would protect sea turtles without economically impacting a large number of shrimpers.

Key words

density estimates, endangered species, GIS, Gulf of Mexico, Kemp's ridley, management, sea turtles, shrimp fishing, spatial dynamics, strip transect methods
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087