Origin of immature loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) at Hutchinson Island, Florida: evidence from mtDNA markers


Witzell, Wayne N., Anna L. Bass, Michael J. Bresette, David A. Singewald, and Jonathan C. Gorham
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Loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) are migratory, long-lived, and slow maturing. They are difficult to study because they are seen rarely and their habitats range over vast stretches of the ocean. Movements of immature turtles between pelagic and coastal developmental habitats are particularly difficult to investigate because of inadequate tagging technologies and the difficulty in capturing significant numbers of turtles at sea. However, genetic markers found in mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) provide a basis for predicting the origin of juvenile turtles in developmental habitats. Mixed stock analysis was used to determine which nesting populations were contributing individuals to a foraging aggregation of immature loggerhead turtles (mean 63.3 cm straight carapace length [SCL]) captured in coastal waters off Hutchinson Island, Florida. The results indicated that at least three different western Atlantic loggerhead sea turtle subpopulations contribute to this group: south Florida (69%), Mexico (20%), and northeast Florida-North Carolina (10%). The conservation and management of these immature sea turtles is complicated by their multinational genetic demographics.