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The Sea Turtle Rookery at Gnaraloo Bay, Western Australia: Using Nocturnal Observations to Validate Diurnal Track Interpretations
- Thomson, Jordan A., Hajnoczky, Nora, Hattingh, Karen
- Chelonian Conservation and Biology 2016 v.15 no.2 pp. 187-196
- Caretta caretta, Chelonia mydas, beaches, coasts, data collection, females, foxes, monitoring, nesting, predation, sea turtles, surveys, Indian Ocean, Western Australia
- Critical gaps remain in our understanding of many sea turtle nesting aggregations in remote or undeveloped regions. Here, we summarize the first 8 yrs of systematic monitoring of the rookery at Gnaraloo Bay, Western Australia. Diurnal track surveys on this approximately 7-km mainland beach were conducted daily during nesting seasons 2008/09 to 2015/16. The total number of emergences (i.e., nests and failed nesting attempts) recorded per season ranged from 480 to 813 (mean = 679.0, SE = 49.1), whereas the number of nests ranged from 305 to 522 (mean = 376.0, SE = 26.7). Peak nesting activity occurred between mid-December and late January, with approximately 70 emergences and 35 nests recorded on average per week during this time. The majority (97%) of emergences and nests were from loggerhead turtles (Caretta caretta), whereas the remainder (3%) were from green turtles (Chelonia mydas). The number of loggerhead turtle emergences recorded per season declined significantly over the course of the study, wheras the number of nests did not, although we suspect that nest detection errors contributed to the difference between trends. We conducted nocturnal surveys (i.e., direct observations) during parts of seasons 2010/11 to 2015/16 to validate diurnal track interpretations and assess potential biases in the diurnal data set. Diurnal nest counts for loggerhead turtles were underestimates in all seasons but one, with an average nest detection bias of −13.0% (SE = 3.0). After accounting for this bias, we estimate that approximately 405 nests are dug by 85 female loggerhead turtles in the Gnaraloo Bay survey area annually. A similar or slightly lower amount of loggerhead turtle nesting activity occurs at the Cape Farquhar survey area, also located on the Gnaraloo coast; thus, this region contains previously underreported nesting aggregations of this species. The Gnaraloo rookeries may play an important role in the dynamics of the southeast Indian Ocean loggerhead turtle subpopulation and may still be depleted relative to historic levels due to historical predation by introduced foxes. Monitoring, research, and the protection of Gnaraloo beaches are, therefore, critical at this juncture.