Life History and Ecology

Green sea turtle.
Green sea turtle.

Much of the Marine Turtle Biology and Assessment Program's prior research was directed toward the green turtle (Chelonia mydas), or honu, the most common sea turtle in Hawaii. Green turtles can frequently be seen feeding on marine plants in shallow coastal waters throughout the islands. Though green turtles in Hawaii were severely depleted when studies began in the 1970s, monitoring data collected subsequently by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the Science Center have shown encouraging signs of recovery by the population. Other research has been directed at populations of other protected sea turtle species occurring in the North Pacific: loggerheads, olive ridleys, leatherbacks and hawksbills.

Guided by recovery plans prepared in collaboration with the FWS for each turtle species, research is conducted specifically to inform management decisions by government agencies responsible for sea turtle conservation. On-going, long-term monitoring surveys and other studies have generated valuable collections of biological and ecological information directly contributing to better understanding of sea turtle natural history and ecology, natural and anthropogenic impediments to recovery, and the dynamics and status of sea turtle populations in Hawaii, other Pacific islands, and around the Pacific Rim. As with the assessment work collaborations with turtle scientists in other NOAA Fisheries offices, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and in foreign agencies and universities around the Pacific Rim are important to the program's success.

Research Priorities

  • Biology - Investigations of the biology, life history, and ecology of sea turtles in their benthic and oceanic marine habitats and on nesting beaches, including studies of foraging habits, development, growth, and maturation.
    [develop topical pages on turtle life history, biology and ecology]
  • Pelagic ecology and oceanic migrations - Studies of movements of satellite-tagged loggerhead and olive ridley turtles in the open ocean to reveal migration patterns, define pelagic foraging habitat, and help in the development of strategies to reduce the frequency of fishery-turtle interactions and related turtle mortality.
    [develop topical pages on oceanic distribution and ecology; describe collaborations]
  • Nearshore ecology and habitat - Surveys in nearshore foraging and resting habitats to provide information on turtle life history, diet, abundance, and more.
  • Disease and health - Collection and collaborative analysis of health assessment data with focus on fibropapilloma (0.3 MB PDF) disease complex to determine causes, containment measures, and impacts to Hawaiian green turtles.
    [develop topical page on turtle health and disease and published studies of Work, Balazs et al.]
  • Rescue and rehabilitation - Monitoring of stranded sea turtles, rehabilitation and release of stranded turtles, and collection of long-term data on causes of stranding.
    [develop page on stranding work: purpose and scientific outputs]

Additional Activities

  • Observer training - training of NMFS observers deployed on U.S.-permitted pelagic longline vessels to monitor interactions with sea turtles and other protected species.
  • Capacity building - establish ties with marine turtle scientists throughout the Pacific islands and around the Pacific Rim to foster collaborative research, exchange of data and information, and capacity building.
  • Education and outreach - make marine turtle research accessible to students, educators and the general public through participation in outreach events.
    [develop page or link to Center outreach pages]