Kimberly M. Stewart, Anne Conan, Terry M. Norton, Brayton A. Hill, Maria Smeriglio, Kathleen Clements, Darryn L. Knobel
Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery 33 (1), 18-34, (15 March 2023) https://doi.org/10.5818/JHMS-D-21-00036
KEYWORDS: biochemical, clinical pathology, hematological, Lesions, remigration interval
The St. Kitts Sea Turtle Monitoring Network (SKSTMN) began implementation of a leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) monitoring program in 2003 on the main leatherback nesting beaches on St. Kitts, Keys Beach, and North Friars Beach, West Indies. From March 2003 to July 2016, a total of 2,419 adult female leatherback emergence events were recorded and evaluated. A notable decrease in adult leatherback emergence activity was observed over the course of the study period. The nesting season was documented to range from February to August. April and May were typically the months with the highest frequency of nesting. The number of females individually identified (flipper tagging and/or passive integrated transponder) from 2004–2016 was 259, with a mean curved carapace length (CCL) (n = 720) of 153 cm and mean curved carapace width (CCW) (n = 719) of 113 cm. Remigration intervals ranged from 1–5 yr with a median of 2 yr. For nesting females in St. Kitts over the course of the study period, mean clutch frequency (with standard deviation [SD]) was 3 (SD 2.9) and during a reproductive season was 2.2 (SD 1.44). Mean total number of eggs laid per nest was 113 with mean number of yolked eggs being 83.5 and yolkless 29.3. The mean incubation period was 59.5 days overall (SD 3.5) with a hatch success overall of 16.75%. Relocated nests had significantly lower hatch success than in situ nests and poaching rates decreased over the course of this study. From 2006–2016, a total of 191 blood samples were collected from 118 individual animals. Hematological and plasma biochemical parameters are outlined and changes in values in individuals over the course of nesting seasons and association with remigration intervals are described. The goal of this study was to report on 14 years of leatherback monitoring and determine the baseline health profile of the nesting leatherback population in St. Kitts.