Movements of leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in the Gulf of Mexico
Leatherback turtles are a migratory marine species that occur worldwide. Although known to inhabit the Gulf of Mexico (GoM), no quantitative studies have investigated the space use of leatherbacks in these waters. Satellite telemetry data of 16 leatherbacks tagged between 2005 and 2015 were analyzed with a switching state-space model to determine behavioral modes expressed while utilizing the GoM (15°N–32°N, 80.4°W–97.8°W). Foraging was found to be the predominant behavior expressed in the GoM, located mainly within three distinct areas, the northeast corner from Louisiana to Florida, the coastal shelf of southwest Florida, and the eastern side of Campeche Bay, Mexico. Leatherbacks were tracked within the GoM during all months of the year, and movements were associated with specific temperature and salinity ranges, salinity fronts, and sea surface height lows. Identifying leatherback habitat use is imperative to the successful management and survival of this marine species especially since the high-use areas coincide with intensive fishing pressure.