High rates of growth recorded for hawksbill sea turtles in Anegada, British Virgin Islands.
Ecology and Evolution
Wiley Open Access
This is the final version of the article. Available from Wiley via the DOI in this record.
Management of species of conservation concern requires knowledge of demographic parameters, such as rates of recruitment, survival, and growth. In the Caribbean, hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) have been historically exploited in huge numbers to satisfy trade in their shells and meat. In the present study, we estimated growth rate of juvenile hawksbill turtles around Anegada, British Virgin Islands, using capture-mark-recapture of 59 turtles over periods of up to 649 days. Turtles were recaptured up to six times, having moved up to 5.9 km from the release location. Across all sizes, turtles grew at an average rate of 9.3 cm year(-1) (range 2.3-20.3 cm year(-1)), and gained mass at an average of 3.9 kg year(-1) (range 850 g-16.1 kg year(-1)). Carapace length was a significant predictor of growth rate and mass gain, but there was no relationship between either variable and sea surface temperature. These are among the fastest rates of growth reported for this species, with seven turtles growing at a rate that would increase their body size by more than half per year (51-69% increase in body length). This study also demonstrates the importance of shallow water reef systems for the developmental habitat for juvenile hawksbill turtles. Although growth rates for posthatching turtles in the pelagic, and turtles larger than 61 cm, are not known for this population, the implications of this study are that Caribbean hawksbill turtles in some areas may reach body sizes suggesting sexual maturity in less time than previously considered.
This work was part funded by the UK Darwin Initiative (Project Ref. No. 162/12/023), NERC and the Japan Bekko Association. LAH is supported by Streamlining of Ocean Wavefarms Impact Assessment (SOWFIA) project and MJW was in receipt of a Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) PhD studentship (NER/S/A/ 2004/12980) during the fieldwork. We thank the BVI National Parks Trust for their support and assistance. All work was sanctioned by the Conservation and Fisheries Department of the British Virgin Islands Government.
Ecology and Evolution, 2014, Vol. 4, Issue 8, pp. 1255 - 1266
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