A novel approach to estimate the distribution, density and at-sea risks of a centrally-placed mobile marine vertebrate
Du Plessis, P
Kema Kema, JR
Koumba Mabert, BD
Mba Asseko, Georges
Kouerey Oliwina, CK
Schummer Gnandji, M
Reason for embargo
Currently under an indefinite embargo pending publication by the publisher. 18 month embargo to be applied on publication
Formulating management strategies for mobile marine species is challenging, as knowledge is required of distribution, density, and overlap with putative threats. As a step towards assimilating knowledge, ecological niche models may identify likely suitable habitats for species, but lack the ability to enumerate species densities. Traditionally, this has been catered for by sightings-based distance sampling methods that may have practical and logistical limitations. Here we describe a novel method to estimate at-sea distribution and densities of a marine vertebrate, using historic aerial surveys of Gabonese leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) nesting beaches and satellite telemetry data of females at sea. We contextualise modelled patterns of distribution with putative threat layers of boat traffic, including fishing vessels and large ship movements, using Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) and Automatic Identification System (AIS) data. We identify key at-sea areas in which protection for inter-nesting leatherback turtles could be considered within the coastal zone of Gabonese Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Our approach offers a holistic technique that merges multiple datasets and methodologies to build a deeper and insightful knowledge base with which to manage known activities at sea. As such, the methodologies presented in this study could be applied to other species of sea turtles for cumulative assessments; and with adaptation, may have utility in defining critical habitats for other central-place foragers such as pinnipeds, or sea bird species. Although our analysis focuses on a single species, we suggest that putative threats identified within this study (fisheries, seismic activity, general shipping) likely apply to other mobile marine vertebrates of conservation concern within Gabonese and central African coastal waters, such as olive ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea), humpback dolphins (Sousa teuszii) and humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae).
We thank the following for support and funding: CARPE (Central African Regional Program for the Environment, Darwin Initiative, EAZA ShellShock Campaign, Gabon Sea Turtle Partnership with funding from the Marine Turtle Conservation Fund (United States Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of the Interior), Harvest Energy, Large Pelagics Research Centre at the University of Massachusetts (Boston), NERC, Vaalco Energy and the Wildlife Conservation Society. We are sincerely grateful to the field teams and logistics staff who assisted in the aerial and ground surveys and with field-site assistance. BJG and MJW receive funding from the Natural Environment Research Council (NE/J012319/1), the European Union and the Darwin Initiative.
This is the author accepted manuscript.
Awaiting citation and DOI