GAINESVILLE, Fla. Satellite tracking of threatened loggerhead sea turtles has revealed two previously unknown feeding 'hotspots' in the Gulf of Mexico that are providing important habitat for at least three separate populations of the turtles, according to a study published recently in the journal Biological Conservation.
The two sites, located in the open waters off the coast of Southwest Florida and the northern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, were found by a team of scientists when they compiled and analyzed loggerhead tracking data.
The researchers' goal was to synthesize tracking data from three genetically distinct loggerhead populations to learn more about how they use the Gulf of Mexico. By identifying the specific location of regularly used habitat, the results provide invaluable information for marine planning and management for this species, whose populations in the Gulf of Mexico are well below historic levels and in recent years have continued to decline drastically in some areas.
The maritime feeding grounds also hold the first clues about how loggerhead sea turtles spend time at sea which is, in essence, most of their lives.
"Up until now, management actions that affect loggerheads have often focused on their limited time at nesting beaches, or on fisheries regulations," said Kristen Hart, Ph.D., the U.S. Geological Survey research ecologist who led the synthesis. "Our findings open up important new options for marine habitat conservation, and provide valuable geographic data that can be used to strategically locate marine reserves based on the best available science, as called for in the new National Ocean Policy."
"The use of satellite tags for tracking marine animals has opened our eyes to the secret lives of some of nature's most elusive creatures," said USGS director Marcia McNutt, "At first a scientific tool to understand the life cycle of animals, such as white sharks and leatherback
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United States Geological Survey