2018: Using climate change scenarios to project loggerhead turtle distributions in the US Mid-Atlantic

Project Title: Using climate change scenarios to project loggerhead turtle distributions in the US Mid-Atlantic

Year: 2018

Principle Investigator: Samir Patel

Client: NOAA/NMFS Saltonstall-Kennedy Program

As reptiles, the distribution of loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) is constrained, at least in part, by water temperatures. The temperate waters of the Mid-Atlantic Bight (MAB) provide critical summer foraging habitat for a large cohort of juvenile and adult loggerhead turtles, which migrate into the Mid-Atlantic Bight (MAB) in the late spring and return to overwintering grounds south of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, in the fall. Currently, their summer distribution in the MAB is concentrated in the shelf waters from Maryland to New Jersey. However, sea surface temperatures on the northeast US continental shelf are warming faster than in other regions, with the largest anomalies (exceeding 2°C) occurring in the MAB. Warming temperatures along the northeast US continental shelf will likely result in a northward distributional shift, as well as changes in the timing of migration into and out of the MAB. This project will model SST conditions favored by loggerheads in the MAB using a large, long-term satellite tagging dataset. The results will improve understanding of both the current and future distribution of loggerheads in the region and can be used to inform fisheries management practices in areas where overlap with fisheries is high.