Document Type

Report

Department/Program

Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date

2002

Abstract

Since 1979, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) Sea Turtle Research Program has served as the Commonwealth's center for sea turtle research and conservation. The primary goal of this program is to assess and monitor sea turtle mortalities and population trends within the Chesapeake Bay and coastal waters of Virginia This has been accomplished through the management of a statewide sea turtle stranding network, aerial population research, behavioral studies using radio and satellite telemetry, arid age and growth research.

A major migratory pathway for loggerhead (Carella caretta), Kemp's ridley (Lepidochelys kempi) and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) sea turtles exists between Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and Virginia (Shoop et al, 1981; Shoop and Kenney, 1992; Keinath et al., 1994). Each year, between 200 and 400 sea turtle stranding deaths are recorded within Virginia's waters. The vast majority of these strandings are juvenile loggerhead and Kemp's ridley sea turtles. Historic stranding data show that 50.0% to 55.0% of the yearly turtle deaths occur in May and June when the turtles first enter the Bay (Lutcavage, 1981; Lutcavage and Musick, 1985; Keinath et al., 1987; Coles 1999). At the time when stranding counts are highest, mean water temperatures range between 18° and 22° C (Coles, 1999). Kemp's ridleys also have an additional peak in strandings in the fall (October and November) when temperatures begin to drop (Lutcavage and Musick, 1985; Coles, 1999). Despite the VIMS Sea Turtle Research program's conservation efforts, a significant number of sea turtle mortalities still occur each year within Virginia; state stranding counts have risen steadily over the last ten years. This increase may in part be due to either intensified fishing interactions, an increase in the sea turtle population. To address this problem, VIMS, under contract and supplemental funding from the National Marine Fisheries Service and Virginia's Commercial Fishing Advisory Board, conducted aerial, surface and sub-surface fisheries surveys and aerial sea turtle population surveys in the Chesapeake Bay during the 2001 season.

Keywords

Sea turtles -- Chesapeake Bay (Md. and Va.), Sea turtles -- Mortality -- Chesapeake Bay (Md. and Va.)

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