Migrations of green turtles (Chelonia mydas) between nesting and foraging grounds across the Coral Sea

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Abstract

Marine megafauna tend to migrate vast distances, often crossing national borders and pose a significant challenge to managers. This challenge is particularly acute in the Pacific, which contains numerous small island nations and thousands of kilometers of continental margins. The green sea turtle, Chelonia mydas, is one such megafauna that is endangered in Pacific waters due to the overexploitation of eggs and adults for human consumption. Data from long-term tagging programs in Queensland (Australia) and New Caledonia were analysed to investigate the migrations by C. mydas across the Coral Sea between their nesting site and their feeding grounds. A review of data collected over the last 50 years by different projects identified multiple migrations of C. mydas to and from New Caledonia (n = 97) and indicate that turtles foraging in New Caledonia nest in the Great Barrier Reef (Australia) and vice versa. Several explanations exist for turtles exhibiting this energetically costly movement pattern from breeding to distant foraging grounds (1200-2680 km away) despite viable foraging habitat being available in the local vicinity. These include hatchling drift, oceanic movements and food abundance predictability. Most of the tag recoveries in New Caledonia belonged to females from the south Great Barrier Reef genetic stock. Some females (n = 2) even showed fidelity to foraging sites located 1200 km away from the nesting site located in New Caledonia. This study also reveals previously unknown migrations pathways of turtles within the Coral Sea. © 2014 Read et al.

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Read, T. C., Wantiez, L., Werry, J. M., Farman, R., Petro, G., & Limpus, C. J. (2014). Migrations of green turtles (Chelonia mydas) between nesting and foraging grounds across the Coral Sea. PLoS ONE, 9(6). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0100083

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