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Employing sea-level rise scenarios to strategically select sea turtle nesting habitat important for long-term management at a temperate breeding area

November 14, 2013

Management strategies to protect endangered species primarily focus on safeguarding habitats currently perceived as important (due to high-density use, rarity or contribution to the biological cycle), rather than sites of future ecological importance. This discrepancy is particularly relevant for species inhabiting beaches and coastal areas that may be lost due to sea-level rise over the next 100 years through climate change. Here, we modelled four sea-level rise (SLR) scenarios (0.2, 0.6, 0.9 and 1.3 m) to determine the future vulnerability and viability of nesting habitat (six distinct nesting beaches totalling about 6 km in length) at a key loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) rookery (Zakynthos, Greece) in the Mediterranean. For each of the six nesting beaches, we identified (1) the area of beach currently used by turtles, (2) the area of the beach anticipated to become inundated under each SLR, (3) the area of beach anticipated to become unsuitable for nesting under each SLR, (4) the potential for habitat loss under the examined SLR, and (5) the extent to which the beaches may shift in relation to natural (i.e. cliffs) and artificial (i.e. beach front development) physical barriers. Even under the most conservative 0.2 m SLR scenario, about 38% (range: 31–48%) total nesting beach area would be lost, while an average 13% (range: 7–17%) current nesting beach area would be lost. About 4 km length of nesting habitat (representing 85% of nesting activity) would be lost under the 0.9 m scenario, because cliffs prevent landward beach migration. In comparison, while the other 2 km of beach (representing 15% nests) is also at high risk, it has the capacity for landward migration, because of an adjoining sand-dune system. Therefore, managers should strengthen actions on this latter area, as a climatically critical safeguard for future sea turtle nesting activity, in parallel to regularly assessing and revising measures on the current high-use nesting habitats of this important Mediterranean loggerhead population.

Katselidis K, Schofield G, Stamou G, Dimopoulos P, Pantis J D, in press. Employing sea-level rise scenarios to strategically select sea turtle nesting habitat important for long-term management at a temperate breeding area, Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology, 2013. Article.

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