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Chacón-Chaverri et al. 2014_Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica, an important foraging ground for the Pacific hawksbill turtle

Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica, an important foraging ground for the Pacific hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata)

Limited quantitative information is available for hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) at foraging grounds in the Eastern Tropical Pacific (ETP), where the species composes one of the most endangered marine turtle populations on the planet. Between August 2010 and March 2013 we captured individual hawksbill turtles using entanglement nets along the edges of mangroves and seagrasses of the Golfo Dulce, in southwest Pacific Costa Rica. A total of 62 hawksbills were captured, including 14 recaptures, of which 46 (74.19%) were juveniles (CCL<66cm) and 16 (25.81%) were adults. The catch per unit effort (1 unit: 100m of net for 7h) during the study ranged between 0.03 and 0.07. The Golfo Dulce is highly turbid during the rainy season (May-November), particularly at our study area, as high sediment loads due to intensive runoff lead to poor water clarity. The probability of detection of hawksbills was considerably higher in the dry season (December-April) compared to the rainy season, suggesting these turtles may prefer waters with higher clarity. None of the individuals captured had evidence of internal or external tags, making it possible to conclude that they had not been previously marked at other feeding or breeding sites. A total of 28 (45.16%) individuals were found to host the ectoparasitic barnacle Stephanolepas muricata, which in high concentrations can be harmful by limiting the mobility of organs and limbs. Although consistent in-water quantification of hawksbills in the ETP remains scant, this study represents the longest and most robust marine monitoring dataset for hawksbills in the region to date. Our findings highlight the relevance of the Golfo Dulce as an important foraging ground for hawksbill turtles in the ETP and emphasize the need to monitor and protect this habitat to aid efforts to recover this critically endangered marine turtle population.

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Chacon-Chaverri et al. 2014_Golfo Dulce, Costa Rica, an important foraging ground for the Pacific hawksbill turtle

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