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

Phillips, A.C.N., J. Coutou, S. Rajh, N. Stewart, A. Watson, A. Jehu, H.Asmath, F. Dziva, C. Unakal R.B. Holder, and R.R. Carthy. 2017. Temporospatial dynamic and public health significance of bacterial flora identified on a major leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) nesting beach in the Southern Caribbean. Marine Ecology. 15pp IP- 068594.


Grande Riviere beach, on the island of Trinidad, supports the largest nesting population of leatherback turtles in the Caribbean region. Throughout the nesting season, nests are naturally disturbed by newly nesting females, resulting in egg breakage and loss of some nest viability. This environment is ideal for the growth and proliferation of microorganisms. The range of bacterial flora present in beach sand and egg shells was examined, with emphasis on bacteria that may pose a threat to public and animal health. The extent to which the bacterial load and genera on the beach changed throughout the season was also assessed. Twenty-five genera were identified, with Pseudomonas spp. found to be the most predominant environmental bacteria. Four genera identified possess zoonotic potential, while five additional genera are known to be of public and animal health significance. Distinct shifts in the density and distribution of bacteria were observed along the beach from early to peak nesting season. Shifts were seen across heavily traversed zones, thus highlighting the potential exposure threats posed to beach visitors and animals alike. Further studies aimed at speciating this population of bacteria, as well as isolating potential fungal pathogens may mitigate this threat. Identification of bacterial agents that are specifically pathogenic to leatherback turtles, turtle eggs, hatchlings and those who may interact with these animals will serve to enhance and guide efforts to better conserve this species and protect the health of all who visit this ecologically significant site.