Protected species aerial survey data collection and analysis in waters underlying the R-5306A airspace: final report submitted to US Marine Corps, MCAS Cherry Point

Goodman, M. April and Braun-McNeill, Joanne and Davenport, Erik and Hohn, Aleta A. (2007) Protected species aerial survey data collection and analysis in waters underlying the R-5306A airspace: final report submitted to US Marine Corps, MCAS Cherry Point. Beaufort, NC, NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service/Southeast Fisheries Science Center, (NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFSC, 551)

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Abstract

To be in compliance with the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the United States Department of the Navy is required to assess the potential environmental impacts of conducting at-sea training operations on sea turtles and marine mammals. Limited recent and area-specific density data of sea turtles and dolphins exist for many of the Navy’s operations areas (OPAREAs), including the Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point OPAREA, which encompasses portions of Core and Pamlico Sounds, North Carolina. Aerial surveys were conducted to document the seasonal distribution and estimated density of sea turtles and dolphins within Core Sound and portions of Pamlico Sound, and coastal waters extending one mile offshore. Sea Surface Temperature (SST) data for each survey were extracted from 1.4 km/pixel resolution Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer remote images. A total of 92 turtles and 1,625 dolphins were sighted during 41 aerial surveys, conducted from July 2004 to April 2006. In the spring (March – May; 7.9°C to 21.7°C mean SST), the majority of turtles sighted were along the coast, mainly from the northern Core Banks northward to Cape Hatteras. By the summer (June – Aug.; 25.2°C to 30.8°C mean SST), turtles were fairly evenly dispersed along the entire survey range of the coast and Pamlico Sound, with only a few sightings in Core Sound. In the autumn (Sept. – Nov.; 9.6°C to 29.6°C mean SST), the majority of turtles sighted were along the coast and in eastern Pamlico Sound; however, fewer turtles were observed along the coast than in the summer. No turtles were seen during the winter surveys (Dec. – Feb.; 7.6°C to 11.2°C mean SST). The estimated mean surface density of turtles was highest along the coast in the summer of 2005 (0.615 turtles/km², SE = 0.220). In Core and Pamlico Sounds the highest mean surface density occurred during the autumn of 2005 (0.016 turtles/km², SE = 0.009). The mean seasonal abundance estimates were always highest in the coastal region, except in the winter when turtles were not sighted in either region. For Pamlico Sound, surface densities were always greater in the eastern than western section. The range of mean temperatures at which turtles were sighted was 9.68°C to 30.82°C. The majority of turtles sighted were within water ≥ 11°C. Dolphins were observed within estuarine waters and along the coast year-round; however, there were some general seasonal movements. In particular, during the summer sightings decreased along the coast and dolphins were distributed throughout Core and Pamlico Sounds, while in the winter the majority of dolphins were located along the coast and in southeastern Pamlico Sound. Although relative numbers changed seasonally between these areas, the estimated mean surface density of dolphins was highest along the coast in the spring of 2006 (9.564 dolphins/km², SE = 5.571). In Core and Pamlico Sounds the highest mean surface density occurred during the autumn of 2004 (0.192 dolphins/km², SE = 0.066). The estimated mean surface density of dolphins was lowest along the coast in the summer of 2004 (0.461 dolphins/km², SE = 0.294). The estimated mean surface density of dolphins was lowest in Core and Pamlico Sounds in the summer of 2005 (0.024 dolphins/km², SE = 0.011). In Pamlico Sound, estimated surface densities were greater in the eastern section except in the autumn. Dolphins were sighted throughout the entire range of mean SST (7.60°C to 30.82°C), with a tendency towards fewer dolphins sighted as water temperatures increased. Based on the findings of this study, sea turtles are most likely to be encountered within the OPAREAs when SST is ≥ 11°C. Since sea turtle distributions are generally limited by water temperature, knowing the SST of a given area is a useful predictor of sea turtle presence. Since dolphins were observed within estuarine waters year-round and throughout the entire range of mean SST’s, they likely could be encountered in the OPAREAs any time of the year. Although our findings indicated the greatest number of dolphins to be present in the winter and the least in the summer, their movements also may be related to other factors such as the availability of prey. (PDF contains 28 pages)

Item Type: Monograph or Serial Issue
Title: Protected species aerial survey data collection and analysis in waters underlying the R-5306A airspace: final report submitted to US Marine Corps, MCAS Cherry Point
Personal Creator/Author:
CreatorsEmail
Goodman, M. April
Braun-McNeill, Joanne
Davenport, Erik
Hohn, Aleta A.
Series Name: NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFSC
Number: 551
Date: 2007
Publisher: NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service/Southeast Fisheries Science Center
Place of Publication: Beaufort, NC
Subjects: Conservation
Management
Item ID: 2098
Depositing User: Patti M. Marraro
Date Deposited: 19 May 2009 16:41
Last Modified: 29 Sep 2011 19:41
URI: http://aquaticcommons.org/id/eprint/2098

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