Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Colorado
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Colorado Project

Design & Analysis of Demographic Studies of Sea Turtles

September 2011 - December 2014


Participating Agencies

  • US Fish & Wildlife Svc-Endangered Species Act

Most species of sea turtle are endangered (Baillie and Groombridge 1996), and are therefore of great conservation concern. Conservation of these species is complicated by their complex life history, the broad spatial distribution of various life stages, and their migratory nature. Informed conservation of a species requires monitoring, not only to track general status but to evaluate the effect of management actions that might be taken to conserve the species. As articulated by a recent report by the National Research Council (2010), monitoring of sea turtles should take two forms. Monitoring of change in population size is important to assess whether a population is increasing or decreasing. However, in order to begin to evaluate the cause of that change, monitoring vital rates such as stage-specific survival and reproduction is important. With such estimates the relationship between vital rates and anthropogenic and other environmental variables can be evaluated. Monitoring vital rates is conducted through tagging studies, some combination of conventional tags (e.g., PIT tags, flipper tags, genetic fingerprinting) and telemetry devices. Such studies are expensive, and in some cases impractical, but strategic use of such studies facilitates informed sea turtle conservation.The overall goal of our work is to develop the protocols and statistical tools necessary to estimate and model the demographic parameters listed above (for both nesting and in water studies), to articulate the usefulness of (and how to use) these tools to the sea turtle community through publications and reports, and to train sea turtle biologists in these tools through hands-on short courses.