Citizen science surveys elucidate key foraging and nesting habitat for two endangered marine turtle species within the Republic of Maldives

Jillian Amy Hudgins, Emma Judith Hudgins, Khadeeja Ali, Agnese Mancini

Abstract


We used a citizen science-based data collection protocol to investigate foraging and nesting marine turtle populations in the Republic of Maldives. With the aid of citizen scientists, we collected nine months of data covering 12.5 % of the country, increasing the available sightings and nesting data by ~2,000 %. Data indicated that the Maldives are an important foraging habitat for juvenile and adult green (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) turtles, though very few adult males of either species were reported. Hawksbill turtles were the more commonly sighted species in all but one surveyed atoll, and Maldivian beaches appeared to host more green turtle nesting sites. The large number of juvenile hawksbills noted in Baa atoll, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, may signal faster recovery from decades of exploitation compared to other regions of the Maldives. Lhaviyani atoll appears to be an adult green turtle foraging hotspot that could warrant additional legal protection. This study provided the first estimate of green turtle nest development time and hatching success in the Maldives. Our method controlled for the data’s temporal structure and accounted for spatiotemporal differences in survey effort, allowing for the most accurate assessment of turtle distribution possible. Our results indicated that a citizen science approach can be a fast, effective way of expanding the spatiotemporal extent of a monitoring dataset and engaging the public in endangered species monitoring. Additionally, our data were used by the government to support a policy change regarding the protection of sea turtles in the Maldives.

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