Grant: 18-029R
Project Title: Integrative assessment of a loggerhead foraging aggregation in Crystal River
Project Manager: Dr. Mariana Fuentes and Natalie Wildermann
Organization: Florida State University (Research and Educational Institute)
Grant Amount: $12,826.35
Completion Date: 2020-08-04

Summary: Extended efforts have been undertaken in Florida to generate and compile biological and ecological information of sea turtles in foraging habitats. The neritic habitats along the coast of Florida are crucial for the development and persistence of both immature and adult turtles of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean Loggerhead Sea Turtle Distinct Population Segment. However, an important geographic gap in in-water research remains in the southern Big Bend region in northwest Florida. While more is known about the distribution, movement and habitat use of juvenile Kemps and green turtles in this region, there are still important information gaps on the foraging ecology of the less abundant loggerhead turtles in the region. Multiple incidental records of loggerhead turtles within the intake canal of the Crystal River Energy Complex have been registered by the Florida Power Corporation since 1999. In addition, in recent years loggerhead turtles have been frequently recorded in the southern extent of Crystal River within near-shore habitats. However, there is a need to better understand the population dynamics and the extent to which the habitats in this region contribute as developmental and foraging habitat for the Northwest Atlantic Loggerhead DPS.

Results: We sighted a total of 35 loggerhead turtles across all months, with the majority observed during the summer (n = 23; June and August) and Fall (n = 9; October) field excursions. Out of the sighted loggerhead turtles, we successfully captured 28 individuals (Appendix A, Figures 1, 2), with an average success capture rate of 82% ( 26%). All turtles were captured using the Rodeo technique. All captured turtles were new recruits, with no recaptures throughout the surveys. More than half of the captured loggerhead turtles were immature (n = 19, 68%), followed by adult females (n = 6, 21%) and adult males (n = 3, 11%). Sea turtle spatio-temporal patterns need to be interpreted with caution, since the lower number of loggerhead turtles observed during the winter months is likely related to the combination of one or more of the following factors: (a) poor detectability and visibility of individuals, (b) lower activity rates due to colder temperatures, (c) seasonal migrations of individuals to overwintering sites.