Marine Science Faculty Publications

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Sea turtles, Benthic habitat use, West Florida Shelf, Towed underwater video, Loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley, Artificial reefs, Environmental parameters

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The use of marine offshore benthic habitats by sea turtles is poorly characterized due to the difficulty of obtaining in situ data. Understanding benthic habitat use that is important to the species’ reproduction, foraging, and migrations is critical for guiding management decisions. A towed camera-based assessment survey system (C-BASS) equipped with environmental sensors was used to characterize and assess benthic habitats on the West Florida Shelf (WFS) from 2014 to 2018. During these cruises, sea turtles were opportunistically observed during the surveys, and critical in situ data such as spatiotemporal information, species identification, habitat use, behavior, and environmental data were collected and evaluated. In total, 79 sea turtles were observed during 97 transects of approximately 2700 km of seafloor, which was recorded on 380 h of video. Several sea turtle species were spotted within the WFS, including loggerhead Caretta caretta, Kemp’s ridley Lepidochelys kempii, and green turtles Chelonia mydas. These opportunistic sightings revealed an area of high use on the WFS, an anthropogenic structure known as the Gulfstream natural gas pipeline (GSPL). C-BASS survey results suggest that 2 sea turtle species (C. caretta and L. kempii) utilize this artificial structure primarily as a resting area. We emphasize the importance of combining habitat mapping techniques (towed underwater video and multibeam bathymetry/backscatter) with tracking technology to better understand the fine-scale habitat use of sea turtles.

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Aquatic Biology, v. 29, p. 17-31

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