Nesting environment

While it is recognized that there is no nesting by this species in U.S. jurisdiction, we felt that a description of recovery actions should be provided so that U.S. agencies could take them into account when providing support to those nations in which U.S. stocks may nest.

1.1 Protect and manage turtles on nesting beaches.

It is prudent to preserve the capacity of a population to recover from a depleted state by protecting nesting females, their nests and hatchlings and to preserve the quality of the nesting area. The killing of gravid females, poaching of nests, predation (native and feral), destruction of the habitat through mining, destruction of vegetation, artificial lighting, development, and increased human use all degrade the ability of depleted populations to recover. Although there are no known nesting grounds for East Pacific green turtles in the U.S. Pacific, we support the efforts of Mexico and Central American nations with nesting grounds to preserve their East Pacific green turtle nesting populations. The following tasks may be used as guidelines to enhance the reproductive ability of these sea turtle populations at the nesting grounds.

1.1.1 Eliminate directed take of turtles and their eggs.

Direct take of nesting turtles and their eggs has been identified as a primary threat to Pacific sea turtle populations. Eliminating this threat is required if populations are to recover. Reduce directed take of turtles through public education and information.

While increased law enforcement will be effective in the short term, without support of the local populace, regulations will become ineffective. Education of the public as to the value of conserving sea turtles, is a very effective way of sustaining recovery efforts and providing support for enforcement of management regulations. Increase enforcement of laws protecting turtles by law enforcement and the courts.

Lack of adequate support for law-enforcement activities which protect sea turtle populations is common, yet it must be understood that enforcement is as important as any other resource management activities. Enforcement, judicial and prosecutorial personnel must receive adequate resources as well as instruction about sea turtles and the importance of protecting turtle populations.

1.1.2 Ensure that coastal construction activities avoid disruption of nesting and hatching activities.

Coastal construction must be monitored to minimize impact on turtle beaches, both during construction, particularly during the nesting and hatching season and in the long-term. Construction equipment must not be allowed to operate on the beach, remove sand from the beach, or in any way degrade nesting habitat. Nighttime lighting of construction areas should be prohibited during nesting and hatching seasons. In the long-term, structures should not block the turtle’s access to the beach, change beach dynamics, or encourage human activities that might interfere with the nesting process.

1.1.3 Reduce nest predation by domestic and feral animals.

Feral animals such as dogs and mongooses pose a severe threat to turtle nests and hatchlings. It is important that feral predators be controlled or eliminated from nesting areas. Domestic animals such as pigs or dogs can also threaten turtle nests and hatchlings, and should be controlled near nesting areas. In particular, domestic dogs should not be allowed to roam turtle nesting beaches unsupervised.

1.1.4 Reduce effects of artificial lighting on hatchlings and nesting females.

Because sea turtles (especially hatchlings) are extremely attracted to artificial lighting, lighting near nesting beaches should be placed in such a manner that light does not shine on the beach. If not, turtles may become disoriented and stray from their course. Quantify effects of artificial lighting on hatchlings and nesting females.

It is important to quantify the impact of existing lighting in terms of nesting success and hatchling survival so that pragmatic mitigation can be applied. Also such study can be used to guide the development of effective lighting ordinances. Implement, enforce, evaluate lighting regulations or other lighting control measures where appropriate.

Shielding of the light source, screening with vegetation, placing lights at lowered elevations and in some cases the use of limited spectrum low wavelength lighting (e.g., low pressure sodium vapor lights) are possible solutions to beach lighting problems. Such measures should be required by law and enforced.

1.1.5 Collect biological information on nesting turtle populations.

The collection of basic biological information on nesting is critical for making intelligent management decisions. Monitoring nesting success can help to identify problems at the nesting beach or elucidate important areas for protection. Analyzing population recruitment can help in understanding population status. Monitor nesting activity to Identify important nesting beaches, determine number of nesting females, and determine population trends.

Important nesting beaches (based on actual number of nests) must be identified for special protection. Nesting beaches need to be identified by standardized surveys during the nesting season. Informational surveys with local residents and officials should be conducted to determine current or historical nesting beaches.

One of the most crucial techniques for determining the status of sea turtle populations and for evaluating the success of management or restoration programs is long-term monitoring of annual nesting on key beaches. The surveys must be done in a standardized and consistent manner with experienced personnel. Since female turtles show fidelity to nesting beaches, long term beach censusing provides a ready means for assessing these maternally isolated populations. However, because of long maturity times for turtles, quantifying trends in population sizes and effectiveness of any restoration program may take a generation time (20+ years) to be reflected in the annual numbers of nesters. Monitoring should thus be recognized as a long-term undertaking. Evaluate nest success and implement appropriate nest-protection measures on important nesting beaches.

One of the simplest means to enhance populations is by increasing hatchling production at the nesting beach. The first step to such an enhancement program is to determine the nesting / hatching success and to characterize factors which may limit that success. Once those limiting factors are determined, protection or mitigation measures can be implemented. If nests must be moved to prevent loss from erosion or other threats, natural rather than artificial incubation should be employed. Define stock boundaries for Pacific sea turtles.

Because sea turtles exhibit a unique genetic signature for each major nesting assemblage, and because nesting assemblages provide an easily censused means of monitoring population status, it is useful to use genetic analysis methods to determine stock boundaries for sea turtle populations. It also enables managers to determine which stocks are being impacted by activities far removed from the nesting beaches, and thus prioritize mitigation efforts. Identify genetic stock type for major nesting beach areas.

A “genetic survey” to establish the genetic signature of each nesting population must be established, before stock ranges can be determined. Such surveys are relatively simple as they require only a small blood sample from a statistically viable number of females within each nesting population. Determine nesting beach origins for juvenile and subadult populations.

Because nesting populations can form the basis for stock management, it is important to be able to pair juvenile and subadult turtles with their stock units by genetic identification. DNA analyses have begun to provide scientists and managers with this sort of data. Determine the genetic relationship among East Pacific green turtle populations and within the Pacific.

The need for such study is critical to successful management of a sea turtle population as it enables resource managers to identify the entire (and often overlapping) range of each population. This type of population study can also detail the genetic diversity and viability of the populations.

1.2 Protect and manage nesting habitat.

The nesting habitat must be protected to ensure future generations of the species. Increased human presence and coastal construction can damage nesting habitat resulting in reduced nest success or reduced hatchling survival.

Once key nesting beaches are identified, they may be secured on a long-term basis in an assortment of ways. These may include conservation easements or agreements, lease of beaches, and in some cases, fee acquisition. Certain beaches may be designated as natural preserves. In some cases education of local residents may serve to adequately secure nesting beaches.

1.2.1 Prevent the degradation of nesting habitats caused by sea walls, revetments, sand bags, other erosion-control measures, jetties and breakwaters.

Beach armoring techniques that beach residents use to protect their beachfront properties from wave action may actually degrade nesting habitats by eroding beaches and preventing nesting by preventing access to nesting sites or preventing digging of the nest on the site. Guidelines on the proper placement of stonewalls must be proposed. Jetties and breakwaters impede the natural movement of sand and add to erosion problems in neighboring beaches. Regulations regarding beach construction and beach armoring should be reviewed to ensure that such measures are restricted or prohibited if adverse impacts to nesting are anticipated.

1.2.2 Eliminate sand and coral rubble removal and mining practices on nesting beaches.

Beach mining severely affects a nesting beach by reducing protection from storms, destroying native vegetation directly or indirectly and may completely destroy a nesting beach. Protective legislation and public education must be used to protect the substrate of the beaches.

1.2.3 Develop beach-landscaping guidelines which recommend planting of only native vegetation, not clearing stabilizing beach vegetation and evaluating the effects as appropriate.

Non-native vegetation may prevent access to nesting sites, prevent adequate nest digging, exacerbate erosion or affect hatchling sex ratios by altering incubation temperatures. Native vegetation, however, plays an important role in stabilizing the beach and creating the proper microclimate for nests. Guidelines for residents concerning the most appropriate plant species and the importance of a native plant base should be encouraged.

1.2.4 Ensure that beach replenishment projects are compatible with maintaining good quality nesting habitat.

Sand on sea turtle beaches has particular properties which affect hatching success (e.g., compaction, gas diffusion, temperature). Any addition or replacement of sand may change these properties and make it more difficult for females to nest or reduce hatchling success. As such, beach replenishment projects should be carefully considered, use materials similar to the native sands and be carried out outside the nesting season.

1.2.5 Implement non-mechanical beach cleaning alternatives.

Hand raking of beach debris, rather than using heavy machinery, should be encouraged on nesting beaches where cleaning is done for aesthetic reasons. The use of heavy machinery can adversely affect hatchlings directly and their nesting habitat.

1.2.6 Prevent vehicular driving on nesting beaches.

Driving on active nesting beaches should be forbidden. Vehicles cause destabilization of beaches, threaten incubating nests and leave tire ruts that hatchlings have difficulty crossing.

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