The SLIM oceanographic model was used to examine the fate of hatchling flatback turtles (Natator depressus) in the first two weeks of their dispersal starting at Wild Duck Island, a major turtle-nesting site in the central Great Barrier Reef region of Australia. We ran simulations to investigate the effects of spring versus neap tides, hatchling's swimming behaviour during their first three days at sea, and the location of nesting beaches. The model predicted that up to 50% of the turtle hatchlings entering the sea from the windward, southern beach remained after 14 days in shallow, nearshore waters, irrespective of tides and swimming. These waters are turbid and may be inhospitable to hatchlings. In contrast >80% of hatchlings dispersing from the leeward, northern beach were dispersed to deeper water (10-40. m) in a quasi-stationary dispersion core centred around 10. km north of the nesting beach after 14 days and the offshore spread of the turtle plume was enhanced by the hatchling's seaward swimming during the first three days. This was due to the presence of a coastal boundary layer and a stagnation zone around the northern side of island, but not the southern side. The model confirmed that dispersal from eastern Queensland flatback turtle rookeries is restricted to the lagoons and coastal waters, and that water circulation and hatchling's swimming control dispersion. The model explains why more turtles nest on the northern than the southern side. This study highlights the usefulness of oceanographic models to increase knowledge about a cryptic life stage of marine turtles.
- Hydrodynamic models
- Marine turtle