The National Save The Sea Turtle Foundation’s Comprehensive Florida Hawksbill Research and Conservation Program (a.k.a. Florida Hawksbill Project) is focused on the long-term study and conservation of hawksbill sea turtles in Florida waters. Recent studies have begun to characterize hawksbill aggregations in Florida, but many important questions remain concerning their abundance and distribution throughout this part of their range.
Similar to other sea turtle species, juvenile hawksbills transition to relatively shallow nearshore habitats after drifting for several years at the surface of deep oceanic waters. Recent studies suggest
that Florida’s hawksbills may initially recruit to reefs in the most southern part of the State (Fl. Keys), then disperse northeast to complete sub-adulthood in the relatively high-latitude reefs of Palm Beach and Martin Counties. Their eventual return to nesting grounds in the Caribbean may complete the cycle, potentially creating a developmental ‘conveyor belt’ for hawksbills along Florida’s SE coast.
This year, we propose to begin to employ mark-recapture surveys, satellite telemetry, and biomarker analysis from Palm Beach south to Monroe County to test whether latitude, water depth, habitat type, or some combination of these factors play a role in the movements and distribution of hawksbill turtles along this route.
Florida’s contribution to the regional recovery of this Critically Endangered species remains underestimated, and an adequate description of hawksbill biogeography in U. S. waters is long overdue. The results of this study will help identify the habitats in SE Florida that are most likely to support hawksbills during this important developmental period, and strongly aid managers in targeting Statewide conservation efforts.