Somatic growth dynamics are an integrated response to environmental conditions. Hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) are long-lived, major consumers in coral reef habitats that move over broad geographic areas (hundreds to thousands of kilometers). We evaluated spatio-temporal effects on hawksbill growth dynamics over a 33-yr period and 24 study sites throughout the West Atlantic and explored relationships between growth dynamics and climate indices. We compiled the largest ever data set on somatic growth rates for hawksbills – 3541 growth increments from 1980 to 2013. Using generalized additive mixed model analyses, we evaluated 10 covariates, including spatial and temporal variation, that could affect growth rates. Growth rates throughout the region responded similarly over space and time. The lack of a spatial effect or spatio-temporal interaction and the very strong temporal effect reveal that growth rates in West Atlantic hawksbills are likely driven by region-wide forces. Between 1997 and 2013, mean growth rates declined significantly and steadily by 18%. Regional climate indices have significant relationships with annual growth rates with 0- or 1-yr lags: positive with the Multivariate El Niño Southern Oscillation Index (correlation = 0.99) and negative with Caribbean sea surface temperature (correlation = −0.85). Declines in growth rates between 1997 and 2013 throughout the West Atlantic most likely resulted from warming waters through indirect negative effects on foraging resources of hawksbills. These climatic influences are complex. With increasing temperatures, trajectories of decline of coral cover and availability in reef habitats of major prey species of hawksbills are not parallel. Knowledge of how choice of foraging habitats, prey selection, and prey abundance are affected by warming water temperatures is needed to understand how climate change will affect productivity of consumers that live in association with coral reefs.
Evolutionary theory predicts that male and female offspring should be produced at a 1:1 ratio, but this may rarely be the case for species in which sex is determined during incubation by temperature, such as marine turtles. Estimates of primary sex ratio suggest that marine turtle sex ratios are highly skewed, with up to 9 females per male. We captured juvenile hawksbill turtles Eretmochelys imbricata in waters around Anegada, British Virgin Islands, a regionally important foraging aggregation, and analysed concentrations of plasma testosterone and oestradiol-17β from 62 turtles to estimate sex ratio. There were 2.4 to 7.7 times more females than males. Testosterone concentrations correlated with sampling date and sea surface temperature (SST), with higher concentrations in the late summer when SST was highest, suggesting that assigning sex through threshold values of sex hormones must be carried out cautiously. The sex ratio in the juvenile foraging aggregation around Anegada is more male biased than at other locations, suggesting that turtles at Anegada have resilience against feminising effects of climate change. Future work should (1) integrate the relative contributions of different genetic stocks to foraging aggregations and (2) investigate the annual and seasonal cycles of sex hormones, and differences among individuals and life history stages.
The use of satellite tracking for the fundamental and applied study of marine turtles began in the 1980s but has undergone rapid growth in recent years. To provide a background against which to judge the past success and future directions of these research efforts we carried out a comprehensive review of over 130 scientific papers on the use of this technique in this taxon. We show how satellite tracking has changed over time as well as outlining biases in spatial, species and lifestage coverage. Descriptions of migration routes and other habitats have offered novel insights into the basic life history patterns of some species, highlighted focal areas for conservation and reinforced the multi-national nature of the stakeholders of many populations. In foraging areas, knowledge is growing as to how animals move within dynamic seascapes, thus facilitating our understanding of 3-dimensional habitat use and seasonal patterns of behaviour. More experimental approaches have elucidated navigational capabilities and post-release survival following fisheries interaction and long-term captivity. In addition, through the Internet and other media, satellite tracking appears to have been effective in engaging public attention in many countries. Finally, we discuss why the use of the technique has increased so markedly over time and point out key areas of concern that we feel should be addressed by the community of researchers and donors who focus on sea turtles