Abstract In response to a call from the US National Research Council for research programs to combine their data to improve sea turtle population assessments, we analyzed somatic growth data for Northwest Atlantic (NWA) loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) from 10 research programs. We assessed growth dynamics over wide ranges of geography (9–33°N latitude), time (1978–2012), and body size (35.4–103.3 cm carapace length). Generalized additive models revealed significant spatial and temporal variation in growth rates and a sig- nificant decline in growth rates with increasing body size. Growth was more rapid in waters south of the USA (\24°N) than in USA waters. Growth dynamics in southern waters in the NWA need more study because sample size was small. Within USA waters, the significant spatial effect in growth rates of immature loggerheads did not exhibit a consistent latitudinal trend. Growth rates declined signifi- cantly from 1997 through 2007 and then leveled off or increased. During this same interval, annual nest counts in Florida declined by 43 % (Witherington et al. in Ecol Appl 19:30–54, 2009) before rebounding. Whether these simul- taneous declines reflect responses in productivity to a common environmental change should be explored to determine whether somatic growth rates can help interpret population trends based on annual counts of nests or nesting females. Because of the significant spatial and temporal variation in growth rates, population models of NWA loggerheads should avoid employing growth data from restricted spatial or temporal coverage to calculate demographic metrics such as age at sexual maturity.
We developed a Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) stock assessment model to evaluate the relative contributions of conservation efforts and other factors toward this critically endangered species’ recovery. The Kemp’s ridley demographic model developed by the Turtle Expert Working Group (TEWG) in 1998 and 2000 and updated for the binational recovery plan in 2011 was modified for use as our base model. The TEWG model uses indices of the annual reproductive population (number of nests) and hatchling recruitment to predict future annual numbers of nests on the basis of a series of assumptions regarding age and maturity, remigration interval, sex ratios, nests per female, juvenile mortality, and a putative ‘‘turtle excluder device effect’’ multiplier starting in 1990. This multiplier was necessary to fit the number of nests observed in 1990 and later. We added the effects of shrimping effort directly, modified by habitat weightings, as a proxy for all sources of anthropogenic mortality. Additional data included in our model were incremental growth of Kemp’s ridleys marked and recaptured in the Gulf of Mexico, and the length frequency of stranded Kemp’s ridleys. We also added a 2010 mortality factor that was necessary to fit the number of nests for 2010 and later (2011 and 2012). Last, we used an empirical basis for estimating natural mortality, on the basis of a Lorenzen mortality curve and growth estimates. Although our model generated reasonable estimates of annual total turtle deaths attributable to shrimp trawling, as well as additional deaths due to undetermined anthropogenic causes in 2010, we were unable to provide a clear explanation for the observed increase in the number of stranded Kemp’s ridleys in recent years, and subsequent disruption of the species’ exponential growth since the 2009 nesting season. Our consensus is that expanded data collection at the nesting beaches is needed and of high priority, and that 2015 be targeted for the next stock assessment to evaluate the 2010 event using more recent nesting and in-water data.