The five species of sea turtles in U.S. waters—all of which are threatened or endangered—are made up of genetically distinct subpopulations, defined by the beaches where the females lay their eggs. Scientists believe that different subpopulations may play distinct roles in the health of the overall population. For example, Atlantic loggerhead turtles hatched in North Carolina and Virginia are 70 percent male, whereas those that hatch in Florida are 70 percent female.
Fisheries bycatch of sea turtles is extensive and, until now, there has not been enough information to determine if a particular fishery is disproportionately taking turtles from a single subpopulation, a scenario that would pose greater risk to the overall population.
This project will analyze thousands of tissue samples from both U.S. and international fisheries in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and use genetic fingerprinting to identify the native beach of each turtle taken as bycatch. This information will provide the first opportunity to pinpoint specific fishing gears and specific locations that may be disproportionally affecting endangered populations. Managers will then be able to target fisheries that cause disproportionate harm and release fisheries that are less of a threat.