Distribution, size range and growth rates of hawksbill turtles at a major foraging ground in the eastern Pacific Ocean
Hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) inhabiting the eastern Pacific Ocean are one of the world's most threatened marine turtle management units. Despite the fact that knowledge about the status of sea turtles at foraging grounds is a key element for developing the effective conservation strategies, comprehensive studies of hawksbills at foraging habitats in the eastern Pacific remain lacking. For many years anecdotal information indicated Coiba Island National Park in Panama as a potentially important hawksbill foraging ground, which led to the initiation of monitoring surveys in September 2014. Ongoing mark-recapture surveys to assess population status, generate demographic data and identify key foraging sites have been conducted every six months in the park since that time. To date, a total of six monitoring campaigns consisting of four days each have been conducted, leading to the capture and tagging of 186 hawksbills, 51 of which were recaptured at least once. The size range of captured individuals was 30.0 to 75.5 cm and largely comprised of juveniles. Somatic growth rates of individual hawksbills were highly variable, ranging from -0.78 to 7.1 cm year-1. To our knowledge, these are the first published growth rates for juvenile hawksbill turtles in the eastern Pacific Ocean. When these growth data are combined with information on hawksbill demography and distribution, our findings indicate Coiba Island National Park is one of the most important known foraging sites for hawksbill sea turtles in the eastern Pacific Ocean.