Habitat use and diving behaviour of gravid olive ridley sea turtles under riverine conditions in French Guiana

The identification of the inter-nesting habitat used by gravid sea turtles has become a crucial factor in their protection. Their aggregation in large groups of individuals during the inter-nesting period exposes them to increased threats to their survival - particularly along the French Guiana shield, where intense legal and illegal fisheries occur. Among the three sea turtle species nesting in French Guiana, the olive ridley appears to have the most generalist diet, showing strong behavioural plasticity according to the environment encountered. The large amounts of sediments that are continuously discharged by the Amazon River create a very unusual habitat for olive ridleys, i.e. turbid waters with low salinity. This study assesses the behavioural adjustments of 20 adult female olive ridleys under such riverine conditions. Individuals were tracked by satellite from Remire-Montjoly rookery in French Guiana using tags that recorded the location and diving parameters of individuals, as well as the immediate environment of the turtles including the in situ temperature and salinity. Data concerning potential preys was provided via collection of epifauna by a trawler. Multiple behavioural shifts were observed in both horizontal and vertical dimensions. During the first half of the inter-nesting season, the turtles moved away from the nesting beach (27.6 ± 26.4 km), performing deeper (14.2 ± 8.7 m) and longer (33.2 ± 22.2 min) dives than during the second half of the period (8.6 ± 10.3 km, 10.6 ± 5.1 m and 26.4 ± 19.4 min). Olive ridleys remained in waters that were warm (range: 26–33 °C) and which fluctuated in terms of salinity (range: 19.5–36.4 psu), in a relatively small estuarine habitat covering 409 km2. If olive ridleys were foraging during this period, the potential preys that might be available include were mostly crustaceans (47%) and fish (26%), as expected for the diet of this generalist species during this period. This study highlights the numerous behavioural adaptations of this species in response to the unusual riverine conditions of the French Guiana continental shelf.


Lepidochelys olivacea, Equatorial Atlantic, Inter-nesting season, Behavioural synchrony, Amazon River

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Chambault Philippine, Giraudou Lucie, de Thoisy Benoit, Bonola Marc, Kelle Laurent, Dos Reis Virginie, Blanchard Fabian, Le Maho Yvon, Chevallier Damien (2017). Habitat use and diving behaviour of gravid olive ridley sea turtles under riverine conditions in French Guiana. Journal Of Marine Systems. 165. 115-123. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmarsys.2016.10.005, https://archimer.ifremer.fr/doc/00354/46507/

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