Population model analysis for the loggerhead sea turtle, Caretta caretta , in Queensland

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Wildlife Research


CSIRO Publishing

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Worldwide declines of marine turtle populations have forced a need for sound conservation policies to prevent their extinction. Loggerhead turtles, Caretta caretta, are declining rapidly at eastern Australian nesting beaches, which are visited by females from all feeding areas for the stock. In some feeding areas of eastern Australia, loggerheads have been protected from deleterious anthropogenic effects. Using long-term mark-recapture data from one such protected group of turtles feeding on Heron Island Reef, Queensland, we created a matrix model to analyse loggerhead demography. We also produced a model for the females nesting at Mon Repos, Queensland, a major rookery where the annual nesting population has declined at rates approaching 8% per year. As indicated by a similar model for loggerheads in the USA, our models predicted that small declines in annual survival rates of adult and subadult loggerheads can have a profound impact on population dynamics. A loss of only a few hundred subadult and adult females each year could lead to extinction of the eastern Australian loggerheads in less than a century. Survival in the first year of life is relatively less important in these long-lived and slow-maturing animals. At Mon Repos, nesting female survival is apparently so low that even beach protection efforts resulting in 90% hatchling emergence success would not prevent population decline. Our research suggests that continued mortality pressure on subadult and adult turtles in their dispersed feeding areas of eastern and northern Australia is a major threat to the eastern Australian loggerhead turtle population. Measures that protect adult and subadult loggerhead turtles should be supported, including the use of turtle excluder devices (TEDs) on prawn trawls.

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