Four species of sea turtles can be found in New York waters: Atlantic green (Chelonia mydas), loggerhead (Caretta caretta), leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) and Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) turtles (Morreale, S. and Standora E., 1998, 2005). All of these species are either threatened or endangered at the state and federal level and therefore protected under the Endangered Species Act and New York State Environmental Conservation Law § 11-0535 and Environmental Conservation Regulations, § 6 CRR-NY Part 182.
Previous research and observations from stranding records and aerial surveys indicate that some locations in New York’s coastal areas and estuaries may provide valuable developmental habitat for juvenile sea turtles. In the past, it was believed that this was primarily true for juvenile loggerheads and Kemp’s ridleys. But, in recent years more juvenile green turtles have been observed (Robert DiGiovanni, Maxine Montello, personal communication). Additionally, New York habitats may be becoming more important to adult sea turtles as evidenced by the first confirmed Kemp’s ridley nesting occurring on Long Island in 2018 (Rafferty et al., 2019).
While New York waters and coastal habitats appear to be important to these species, the extent of their use of these areas remains unknown. There is a lack of information about the abundance, distribution and behavior of sea turtles across the New York Bight. This baseline data is needed in order to mitigate growing threats to sea turtles such as cold stunning and fishery interactions (entanglements and incidental catch). The New York Ocean Action Plan (OAP) identified the need to design and implement a monitoring survey for sea turtles in the New Bight in order to determine and implement appropriate conservation actions for these species (New York Ocean Action Plan, 2017). The OAP specified that this monitoring should include a variety of methods and identified a few that might be considered. It also highlighted the collection of data on distribution, seasonal occurrence, health, behavior and identification of important habitat or areas of importance as being of highest priority (New York Ocean Action Plan, 2017).
Due to their wide geographic ranges, long migration and long life spans sea turtles are challenging to monitor (New York Ocean Action Plan, 2017). This is particularly true in areas like the New York Bight which are outside their historic nesting ranges. A workshop of experts from state and federal agencies, NGOs, stranding response groups and academia came together in January of 2018 to discuss needs and options for monitoring sea turtles in New York. The workshop was well attended, with 25 people participating in person and 16 participating via webinar. The day began with a series of talks about past or ongoing monitoring work in the region and the New York Bight. In the afternoon the in-person group was divided into two breakout working groups for discussion. The workshop attendee list, agenda and summary of the presentations are found in Appendix A.
In this report, we share the suggestions made at the workshop and subsequent discussions. New information that has become available since the meeting and current and some upcoming efforts are also discussed. The report begins by defining the workshop objectives. Different methods are then detailed and discussed. Costs, funding options and a timeline for implementation of any of the suggested future actions are not included. A consensus from the workshop identified that designing a comprehensive monitoring and conservation plan for sea turtles will need additional steps to explore the existing efforts and available data and related 2 data gaps. However, this workshop did also identify some near-term priorities and suggested additional work which could be started now, and which would add to or build upon existing efforts.