Embryo mortality and hatch success in in situ and translocated leatherback sea turtle Dermochelys coriacea eggs

  • Published source details Eckert K.L. & Eckert S.A. (1990) Embryo mortality and hatch success in in situ and translocated leatherback sea turtle Dermochelys coriacea eggs. Biological Conservation, 53, 37-46.


Worldwide, sea turtle populations are declining. Conservation measures to bolster numbers are thus desirable. At Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, St Croix, US Virgin Islands, natural beach erosion was estimated to cause the loss of 45–60% of leatherback turtle Dermochelys coriacea eggs laid each year. In order to try and improve hatch success, excavating nests in vulnerable areas and reburying in stable beach zones was undertaken. Hatch success was compared to nests left in situ.


Over the 4 study years (1982–1985), 31.4% to 68.1% of the eggs laid annually (312 of 582 total clutches) in beach zones vulnerable to erosion were collected when the female was laying. These clutches were carefully reburied in stable beach zones in an effort to mitigate losses to erosion.

The proportion of eggs per clutch that failed to develop, the proportion that contained pre-term dead embryos, the occurrence of embryonic deformity, or the risk of egg or hatchling predation did not significantly increase in reburied nests compared to those left in situ. However, there was a consistently larger proportion of pipped, dead hatchlings in clutches that had been reburied reducing overall hatch success (53.7% hatching) compared to in situ clutches (64.1%). Importantly, the translocation and reburial of otherwise doomed clutches resulted in a net gain of around 6,650 hatchlings over the 4 years.
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