Theses and Dissertations

Defense Date

7-28-2014

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

M.S. Coastal Zone Management

Department

Oceanographic Center

Abstract

Hatchling disorientation after emergence is a major factor impacting sea turtle populations. This study utilized data from over 1,200 Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Marine Turtle Disorientation Report forms from years 2006 to 2011 to assess changes in the severity and locations of disorientation events and the impact of municipal beach lighting ordinances. While the FWC forms were completed for all sea turtle species observed, this study focused only on loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta). A Disorientation Severity Index (DSI) was derived from the number of hatchlings and the direction of their tracks leaving the nests to evaluate the changes in disorientation over six years in Broward County. The FWC forms provide a much larger database for the analysis of hatchling disorientation patterns and trends than can be derived from the more precise, but labor intensive, Hatchling Orientation Index (HOI) survey method of Witherington et al. (1996). This research differs from prior work by focusing on the information provided in the FWC Marine Turtle Disorientation Report forms; using each individual disorientation to assess changes in the severity of hatchling disorientations over time. Prior work has not used the FWC forms for analysis. Significant differences were found for average DSI between years and locations. Overall, DSI decreased significantly from 2006 to 2011 in Hillsboro Beach, Pompano Beach, Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, Fort Lauderdale, and Hollywood. This might be due to increased compliance with lighting ordinances. In addition, disorientation hotspots were identified and the DSI in these hotspots decreased significantly in central and south Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, and Lauderdale-by-the-Sea. Hotspots were visually identified as R-Zone ranges with higher numbers of disorientations than in other ranges (Fig. 6). Artificial beach illumination is very prevalent in Broward County. However, there was no significant relationship between the number of types of lights that were recorded on the FWC forms and DSI. Disorientations seemed to be clustered within hotspots with known lighting issues. Management strategies should use these analyses to reassess loggerhead recovery plans to reduce disorientation hotspots and increase hatchling recruitment.

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