A matrix population model for the hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) in the Gulf of Paria, Venezuela
Gonzalez, María Fernanda
Following classical literature in herpetology, we built two five-stage life tables for the endangered hawksbill sea turtle Eretmochelys imbricata in the Gulf of Paria, eastern Venezuela, using data from incidental captures by industrial trawl fisheries from 1991 until 2000, artisanal fisheries effect and regional stranding from 1999 to 2017, and a local conservation project with the nesting females from 2003 to 2018. We estimated the survivorship for the managed, translocated nests, and a portion of the natural in situ nests (≈31%). We used the resultant life graph and matrices to estimate the hawksbills population status in the region and determine differences in population growth rate and elasticity between translocated and in situ nests. Eggs/hatchlings (stage 1) and small juveniles of less than three years old (stage 2), had high mortalities. We controlled stage 1 mortality by translocating nests into a hatchery. The in situ nests suffered almost 88% predation or poaching. Conversely, these non-translocated nests' emergence success was greater than that of managed nests, but overall survivorship was the lower. We propose that fecundity could begin with sub-adults (stage 4) after the 7th year with 60 cm of curved carapace length. Finite rates of increase of both populations, managed and natural, were significantly higher than 1, and that of the managed population is significantly higher than that of the natural one, meaning that both populations would grow and that the managed one would grow faster than the natural one. Then protection of stage 1 is essential to the population of hawksbills in the region, although uncertainties of survivorship of stage 2 and fecundity of stage 4 were not properly confirmed locally. Notwithstanding, elasticity analysis indicated that the population growth rate was more affected by proportional changes in sub-adults and adults' fecundity than any other life-history element.