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Leatherback turtle nests increase in Fla.

DURHAM, N.C., April 4 (UPI) -- Wildlife experts in Florida say the number of endangered leatherback sea turtle nests on Florida beaches increased by more than 10 percent annually since 1979.

A Duke University-led study that included a survey of 68 beaches in Florida called the increases "very encouraging news," a Duke release said Monday. The study is published in the current issue of the journal Ecological Applications.

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The increase in the number of turtle nests in the Sunshine State mirrors that observed in other Atlantic leatherback sea turtle populations, Larry B. Crowder, director of the Duke Center for Marine Conservation, said.

"It suggests that conservation and recovery efforts mandated under the Endangered Species Act are paying off region-wide," he said.

Reduced populations of large predators, including shark populations that collapsed during the past decade in the northwest Atlantic, may play an even larger role in the turtle boom by limiting at-sea mortality rates for juvenile and young adult turtles, researcher Kelly Steward said.

Nest counts are the most reliable way of assessing trends in sea turtle populations, the researchers said, because the animals spend most of their lives in the open ocean, where changes in population numbers are difficult to detect.

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