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A Determination of Temporal and Spatial Distribution, Migratory Patterns, and Habitats for Sea Turtles using AVHRR


Of the six sea turtle species that are found in U.S. waters or that nest on U.S. beaches, all are designated as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 1998). These sea turtles were listed because, to different degrees, their populations had declined largely as a result of human activities (Committee of Sea Turtle Conservation, 1990). Recent population studies have concluded that the number of females that nest in the Southeast United States is continuing to decline. Successful conservation of large marine vertebrates requires an adequate understanding of their temporal and spatial distribution, migratory patterns, and habitat utilization (Godley, 2003).

Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) sea surface temperature data  was utilized from the Center of Excellence in Remote Sensing Education and Research (CERSER) on the campus of Elizabeth City State University. CERSER currently has a 1.5 TeraScan System which is able to ingest AVHRR and SeaWiFs data. This data was combined with turtle point source data to determine if there was a correlation between the sea surface temperature and the location of sea turtles. AVHRR sea surface temperature datasets were also collected and analyzed from  NOAA’s CoastWatch program. The CoastWatch data was then compared with data from CERSER for validation. Turtle point source data was overlaid onto sea surface temperature data to provide a means of visualization. Maps will also be developed to track and display the migratory patterns of sea turtles.

Destruction of feeding and nesting habitats and pollution of the world’s oceans are all taking a serious toll on the remaining sea turtle populations. By identifying the distribution, migratory patterns, and habitats of sea turtles preventive measures can be taken to ensure that this endangered species is protected from human destruction. This will also enable the development of strategies for protecting sea turtles.