Alternate Title

A Sea Turtle Population Assessment for Florida's Big Bend, Northeastern Gulf of Mexico

Document Type



Coastal waters of Florida’s Big Bend, Gulf of Mexico (GOM) once supported one of the largest sea turtle fisheries in the United States. To fill an information gap in this region on abundance and distribution of sea turtles, we used vessel—based distance sampling and active capture methods to characterize current foraging aggregations near the St. Martins Marsh Aquatic Preserve. Over 10 sampling periods between 2012—2018, we completed 513 km of transects and recorded 819 turtles among 4 species—green turtle (Chelonia mydas, n = 624), Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii, n = 147), loggerhead (Caretta caretta, n = 47), and a single hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata). Turtle densities in 4 study plots within the 200 km2 study site ranged from 57—221 immature green turtles/km2, 16—56 immature Kemp’s ridleys/km2, and 1—14 juvenile—to—adult loggerheads/km2. Of 200 green turtles captured, 67.5% showed skin tumors consistent with fibropapillomatosis, a frequency similar to that from urbanized estuaries of Florida’s east coast. The largest green turtles (> 60 cm straight standard carapace length), abundant in the southern portion of our study area, are of note because this size class is uncommonly recorded within US territorial waters. Analyses of green turtle mtDNA haplotypes found contributions from rookeries in the western GOM, Mexican Caribbean, and Costa Rica. Although Big Bend protected areas were principally designed to conserve marine and coastal habitats, these regulatory zones have also effectively encompassed a hotspot for foraging sea turtles.

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Chabot et al. Table S1.pdf (74 kB)
Supplemental Table S1

Chabot et al. Table S2.pdf (112 kB)
Supplemental Table S2