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Migration of hawksbill turtles Eretmochelys imbricata from Tortuguero, Costa Rica


  • Sebastian Troëng,

  • Peter H. Dutton,

  • Daniel Evans

S. Troëng (, Caribbean Conservation Corporation, Apdo Postal 246-2050 San Pedro, Costa Rica. – P. H. Dutton, NOAA-Fisheries, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, 8604 La Jolla Shores Dr., La Jolla, CA 92038, USA. – D. Evans, Carribean Conservation Coorporation, Suite A-1, 4424 NW 13th St., Gainesville, FL 32609, USA.


The hawksbill turtle Eretmochelys imbricata is a widely distributed and critically endangered species that feeds on sponges and fills an important ecological role in the coral reef ecosystem. At Tortuguero, Costa Rica, trend analyses indicate considerable decline in nesting estimated at 77.2–94.5% between 1956 and 2003, as a result of excessive turtle fishing. We analyzed flipper tag returns, satellite telemetry and genetic samples to determine movements and habitat use of adult female Tortuguero hawksbills. Tag returns and satellite telemetry show hawksbills migrate to foraging grounds in Nicaragua and Honduras. Genetic analysis indicates the hawksbills may also migrate to Cuban, Puerto Rican, and possibly Mexican waters. We conclude hawksbills represent an internationally shared resource. There is a close correlation between tag recapture sites, hawksbill foraging grounds and coral reef distribution. Caribbean coral reef decline may reduce food availability and negatively impact hawksbill turtles. Conversely, hawksbill decline may shift the balance on coral reefs by reducing predation pressure on sponges and hence make coral reefs less resilient to natural and anthropogenic threats. Strategies aiming to conserve hawksbills and coral reefs must consider both the extensive hawksbill migrations and the close relationship between the species and the coral reef ecosystem.