Graduation Year

2011

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.S.

Degree Granting Department

Geography, Environment and Planning

Major Professor

Joni Downs

Keywords

coastal management, Nesting behavior, Reproductive success rates, sand key, Sediment compaction

Abstract

The health of Florida's beaches are vital to the survival of loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta), as nearly half of the world's loggerheads nest on the states beaches. Many of the beaches utilized by the turtles have undergone nourishment projects in hopes of combating erosion of the shoreline, protecting beachfront property, and creating more suitable beaches for tourism. Although it is argued that beach nourishment benefits sea turtles by providing more nesting habitat, the effects of the Pinellas County nourishment projects on loggerhead nesting are unknown. Beach nourishment can alter the compaction, moisture content, and temperature of the sand, all of which are variables that can affect nest site selection and the proper development of eggs. This research has four objectives: (1) to create a GIS dataset using historic loggerhead sea turtle data collected at the individual nest level along the West coast of Florida, (2) to examine the densities of loggerhead nests, the densities of false crawls (i.e. unsuccessful nesting attempts), and the nest-to-false crawl ratio on natural and nourished beaches for the 2006-2010 nesting seasons; (3) to determine the effects of beach nourishment projects on the hatchling success rates and emergence success rates; and (4) to determine areas preferred or avoided by turtles for nesting.

The study found that nesting and false crawl densities significantly differed between natural and nourished beaches during three of the five nesting seasons. Nesting densities increased directly following nourishment and false crawl densities were higher in nourishment areas during every nesting season. False crawl densities were higher than statistically expected on nourished beaches and lower than expected on natural beaches. No significant differences were found between hatchling and emergence success rates between natural and nourished beaches. However, when the rates were analyzed by nesting season, the average hatching and emergence success rates were always lower on nourished beaches than on natural beaches. A hotspot analysis on nests and false crawls revealed that turtles preferred natural beaches that border nourished areas for nesting while false crawls were more evenly distributed through the study area.

Although this study documents the negative effects of beach nourishment on loggerhead sea turtle nesting, nourishment projects are likely to continue because of their benefits to human populations. Further examining of the impacts that humans have on nesting and developing loggerheads will ultimately aid policy formation as we continue to manage and protect the future of the species.

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