Kramer, P.

An Atlas of Sea Turtle Nesting Habitat for the Wider Caribbean Region. WIDECAST Technical Report No.6


Six species of sea turtle nest in the Wider Caribbean Region (WCR). In partnership with more than 120 Data Providers, the spatial database of nesting habitat herein assembled is the most comprehensive for any region of the world, with 1,311 nesting beaches identified in 43 WCR nations and territories, inclusive of Bermuda to the north and Brazil to the south. Because some sites host nesting by multiple species, 2,535 species-specific sites are named. Of these, 77% are categorized in terms of abundance: <25, 25-100, 100-500, 500-1,000, or >1,000 nesting crawls per year. Hawksbill and green turtles are the least known, with 33% and 24%, respecttively, of all known nesting sites associated with unknown crawl abundances.

Large nesting colonies are rare. Nesting grounds receiving more than 1,000 crawls per year range from 0.4% (hawksbill) to 7.0% (Kemp’s ridley) of all known species-specific sites. For any species, roughly half of all known nesting sites support fewer than 25 crawls (fewer than 10 reproductively active females) per year. While some nations are making exemplary progress in identifying and monitoring nesting stocks, consistent sea turtle population monitoring effort is still lacking in most areas and recent data are scarce in some jurisdictions; two archipelagic States (Bahamas, St. Vincent and the Grenadines) and Hispaniola (Dominican Republic, Haiti) have never been completely assessed.

The regulatory landscape is fragmented. Thirty (69.8%) nations and territories prohibit sea turtle exploitation year-around: 29 of 43 jurisdictions mandate indefinite protection (eight of these allow exemptions for ‘traditional’ exploitation), while Anguilla has adopted a moratorium set to expire in 2020. With the exception of the Cayman Islands, legal sea turtle fisheries are based on minimum size limits (by weight or shell length), targeting large juveniles and adults in contradistinction to the best available science on management and recovery.

Threats matrices characterizing a range of risk factors, including those that result in the loss or degradation of critical habitat, reveal that beach erosion, nest loss to predators or physical factors, artificial beachfront lighting, direct exploitation of turtles and eggs, and pollution threaten the survival of sea turtles at their nesting grounds in more than 75% of all WCR nations and territories. With regard to factors potentially hindering population recovery at foraging grounds, more than 75% of Caribbean nations and territories cite pollution, fisheries bycatch, entanglement, coral reef and/or seagrass degradation, and losses to hunters, poachers and natural predators as threatening the survival of sea turtles at sea.

The data collected and assembled will allow for further research and analysis of sea turtle abundance (including population trends at index sites) and habitat use; for example, in conjunction with other datasets to determine areas of high biodiversity or areas in need of urgent protection. The database, archived and displayed online by OBIS-SEAMAP (, will be updated regularly and used to establish conservation and management priorities, and to inform and improve policy at national and regional levels. Future goals of the project are to research and incorporate seagrass and coral reef data to determine nationally and regionally significant foraging areas, thus identifying marine areas in need of management attention and contributing to the development of a network of population monitoring programs, including juvenile and adult age classes, at index sites. 

Data type
Research report
Research and monitoring
Report number
WIDECAST Technical Report No. 6
Geographic location
St. Eustatius
St. Maarten

Synthesis of coral reef health indicators for the Western Atlantic: Results of the AGRRA program (1997-2000)


The Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) sampling strategy is designed to collect both descriptive and quantitative information for a large number of reef vitality indicators over large spatial scales. AGRRA assessments conducted between 1998 and 2000 across a spectrum of western Atlantic reefs with different histories of disturbance, environmental conditions, and fishing pressure were examined to reveal means and variances for 15 indicators. Twenty surveys were compiled into a database containing a total of 302 benthic sites (249 deep, 53 shallow), 2,337 benthic transects, 14,000 quadrats, 22,553 stony corals. Seventeen surveys contained comparable fish data for a total of 247 fish sites (206 deep, 41 shallow), 2,488 fish transects, and 71,102 fishes. Shallow (≤ 5 m) reefs were dominated by A. palmata, a good proportion of which was standing dead, while deep (>5m) reefs were nearly always dominated by the Montastraea annularis species complex. Fish communities were dominated by acanthurids and scarids with seranids making up less than 1% of the fish seen on shallow reefs and 4% on deep reefs.

AGRRA benthic and fish indicators on deep reefs showed the highest variation at the smallest spatial scale (~<0.1 km), with recent mortality and macroalgal canopy height displaying the largest area and subregional scale (~1-100 km) variation. A mean live coral cover of 26% for the 20 survey areas was determined for the deep sites. Significant bleaching and disease-induced mortality of stony corals associated with the 1998 (El Niño-Southern Oscillation) ENSO event were most apparent in the western Caribbean and Bahamas subregions and the Montastraea annularis complex was the most heavily impacted.

The overall low number of sightings for larger-bodied groupers and snappers (~< 1/100 m2) as a whole suggest that the entire region is overfished for many of these more heavily targeted species. More remote reefs showed as much evidence of reef degradation as reefs more proximal to human coastal development. Characterizing present-day reef condition across the region is a complex problem since there are likely multiple sources of stress operating over several spatial and temporal scales. Not withstanding the many limitations of this analysis, the value of making multiple observations across multiple spatial scales that can approximate the “normal” state for the region today is still very high. 

Data type
Scientific article
Research and monitoring