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Spatial characterization of a foraging area for immature hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) in Yucatan, Mexico

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The submarine habitats in the Rio Lagartos Sea Turtle Sanctuary, Mexico, are an important feeding and development area for juvenile Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata). The characterization of these critical habitats is an important and urgent issue to attend for the conservation of this species in Mexico. The objective of this study is to identify, locate and describe the marine benthic habitats in this area, and explain the distribution of the juvenile Hawksbill turtles in the study area. We used submarine techniques such as videotransects and spot checks to characterize the bottom types in the area, and geostatistic techniques to elaborate thematic maps of the different benthic components, integrating all of them into a GIS. We obtained the bottom type map with eight submarine habitats at different depth ranges. We found juvenile Hawksbill turtles distributed mainly on hard bottom sites covered by octocorals, such as Pseudopterogorgia, and sponges of the genera Chondrilla and Spheciospongia. We estimated habitat ranges for the captured turtles and the bottom types occupied by them, then we calculated the distribution densities of juvenile Hawksbill turtles by bottom type. We concluded that the combination of spatial techniques and multivariate statistics is efficient for mapping the marine bottom types in the area, and recommend the generation of specific conservation strategies to protect this area because of the natural marine resources and process ocurring in it.

Affiliations: 1: Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados, IPN, Unidad Mérida, México; 2: Programa de Protección de Tortugas Marinas. Departamento de Vida Silvestre, SEMARNAT, México


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