Fellow Martin Beal co-authored a publication in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science investigating the connectivity in green turtle populations across Marine Protected Areas in West Africa. Using satellite tags to follow 45 green turtles during the internesting period, their results highlight the importance of the existing MPA network, but also its gaps.
Abstract: Networks of marine protected areas (MPAs) are invaluable for the protection of species with high dispersal capacity, yet connectivity within networks is poorly understood. We demonstrate the connectivity within the regional MPA network in West Africa (RAMPAO), mediated by the largest green turtle population in the eastern Atlantic Ocean. We equipped with satellite tags 45 female green turtles nesting in the Bijagós Archipelago, Guinea-Bissau, and tracked them during internesting, migration, and foraging to quantify the degree of coverage the RAMPAO network provides during each of these critical periods. During the internesting period, turtles were largely concentrated around the nesting islands, with a mean of 94.8% (SD 0.1%, range: 46% – 100%, n = 40 turtles) of tracking positions falling within MPA limits. Among the 35 turtles successfully tracked into the foraging period, we identified variable migratory strategies, with 12 turtles remaining near-resident at distances of 40-90 km from breeding sites, 10 turtles migrating 300-400 km to The Gambia and Senegal, and 13 turtles traveling >1000 km to northern Mauritania. Of the 35 foraging turtles, 26 used MPAs, with a mean of 78.0% (SD 34.8%, range: 3.7% – 100%) of their tracking positions falling within the limits of RAMPAO MPAs, across Guinea-Bissau, Senegal and Mauritania. Migration corridors with high concentrations of passing turtles were mostly located nearshore, and 21% of these high passage areas fell within the MPA network. Overall, we found that this population connects five RAMPAO MPAs, yet some foraging sites (e.g., in the Bijagós) and important migration areas (e.g., Cap-Vert peninsula) described here are currently unprotected. These results are relevant to any considerations of MPA extension or establishment within the regional network, which would contribute towards meeting the Convention on Biological Diversity targets for national marine protected area estate coverage. By documenting biological connectivity across RAMPAO, this study represents an important example of the relevance of international protected area networks for green turtle conservation and for wider conservation action at a regional scale.
(Figure from the article; no changes were made)