Grant: 04-005R
Project Title: A Preliminary Assessment of Hawksbill Sea Turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) in Palm Beach County Waters
Project Manager: Lawrence Wood
Organization: Loggerhead Marinelife Center (Non-Profit Organization)
Grant Amount: $8,673.00
Completion Date: 2005-12-09

Summary: This study is the first to focus on the size composition, genetic identity, seasonality, site fidelity, and growth rates of Critically Endangered hawksbill turtles in Florida coral reef habitats. Turtles will be hand-captured during SCUBA dives along the Breakers Reef chain of coral reefs along Palm Beach County. Methods will include both traditional tagging of all captured animals with inconel and PIT tags, and painting of numbers on the shells of a limited number of individuals for continual documentation by recreational divers. Tissue samples will also be collected for genetic analyses. Also, the feasibility of photographic identification through unique individual characteristics will be tested by referencing the newly tagged turtles against an extensive photographic library that has been compiled by local underwater photographers over many years. If unique identifying features are found, a photographic database of known turtles will be created and updated as new data are gathered.

Results: The feasibility of the hand-capture method has been established with 54 turtles captured in 51 days diving. The abundance of hawksbills within the study site has also been established with a high catch-per-unit effort. There were 24 confirmed re-sightings representing 13 turtles, with a maximum of 5 sightings of one individual over 250 days. All turtles have been seen in close proximity to capture site. Captured turtles ranged in size from 40.2 82.3 cm in straight carapace length. We recorded 21% of the hawkbills as have Milliporina (Hydrozoa) colonies on their carapace.

The next year of the project will include collecting tissue samples to be analyzed for stock assessment, blood collection for gender determination, characterizing reef habitats with digital videography and expanding the study area. (Author: L. Wood)

Copy of Presentation: A Preliminary Assessment of Hawksbill Turtles In Palm Beach County Waters