Hidden demographic impacts of fishing and environmental drivers of fecundity in a sea turtle population

Roast MJ, Martins S, Fernández-Peralta L, et al (2023) Hidden demographic impacts of fishing and environmental drivers of fecundity in a sea turtle population. Conservation Biology early view: https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.14110

Fisheries bycatch is a critical threat to sea turtle populations worldwide, particularly as turtles are vulnerable to multiple gear types. The Canary Current is an intensely fished region, yet there has been no demographic assessment integrating bycatch and population management information of the globally significant Cabo Verde loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) population. Using Boa Vista island (Eastern Cabo Verde) subpopulation data from capture-recapture and nest monitoring (2013-2019), we evaluated population viability in combination with estimated regional bycatch rates (2016-2020) in longline, trawl, purse-seine and artisanal fisheries. We further evaluated current nesting trends in the context of bycatch estimates, existing hatchery conservation measures, and environmental (net primary productivity) variability in turtle foraging grounds. Current bycatch mortality rates present a risk of near extinction this century, when projecting the Boa Vista subpopulation with matrix population models. Bycatch reduction could increase finite population growth rate by 1.95%, and 1.76% for longline fisheries alone. Hatchery conservation increases hatchling production and reduces extinction risk, but cannot achieve population growth alone. Short-term increases in nest counts (2013-2021), putatively driven by temporary increases in net primary productivity, may be crucially masking ongoing long-term population declines. When fecundity was linked to net primary productivity, our hindcast models simultaneously predicted these opposing long-term and short-term trends. Consequently, our results show conservation management must diversify from land-based management. The masking effect we found has broad-reaching implications for monitoring sea turtle populations worldwide, demonstrating the importance of directly estimating adult survival and that nest counts might inadequately reflect underlying population trends. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved