Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are recognized manmade threats to sea turtle populations, but substantial uncertainty exists surrounding their exposure to contaminants and their sensitivity to toxic effects. This uncertainty creates difficulty for conservation managers to make informed decisions for the recovery of these threatened species. To provide baseline concentrations and spatial comparisons, we measured a large suite of POPs in loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) egg yolk samples collected from 44 nests in three distinct U.S. locations: North Carolina (NC), eastern Florida (E FL), and western Florida (W FL). The POPs included polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), organochlorine pesticides such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethanes (DDTs), chlordanes, mirex, dieldin, hexachlorocyclohexanes (HCHs), hexachlorobenzene, and toxaphene congeners, as well as polybrominated diphenyl ether congeners (PBDEs). Persistent organic pollutant concentrations were lowest in W FL, intermediate in E FL, and highest in NC egg samples, with several statistically significant spatial differences. This increasing gradient along the southeast coast around the Florida peninsula to North Carolina was explained partly by the foraging site selection of the nesting females. Data from previous tracking studies show that NC nesting females feed primarily along the U.S. eastern coast, whereas W FL nesting females forage in the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. The E FL nesting females forage in areas that overlap these two. The foraging site selection also results in exposure to different patterns of POPs. An unusual PBDE pattern was seen in the NC samples, with nearly equal contributions of PBDE congeners 47, 100, and 154. These findings are important to managers assessing threats among different stocks or subpopulations of this threatened species. Environ. Toxicol. Chem. 2011; 30:1677–1688. © 2011 SETAC
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