Spatial use of nesting habitat by Dermochelys coriacea is analyzed on a beach with intense tourism use on Margarita Island. There are no previously published data in Venezuela about the use of nesting habitat by leatherback sea turtles and the effects of human activities on nest location and hatching success. Data were collected during nightly intensive beach patrols on Playa Parguito beach (1.6-km long) from March through August 2001. Thirty-one females nested on the beach, and we found 74 nests. The average distance between pairs of nests from the same female was 498 m, although modal distance was between 200 and 300 m. The average distance between randomly selected pairs of nests from any female was 451 m. No special preference for a certain part of the beach for each female was found. Spatial analysis indicated nesting aggregates toward the most suitable portions of the beach: those with fewer risk factors (light pollution, concentration of beach furniture and umbrellas). Our results show nesting behavior change, causing decreased nesting in areas where the best hatching rates occurs. Hatching success was significantly higher in the southern part of the beach, but the larger number of clutches were laid in the northern area, where hatching success was the lowest. Hatching rate for in situ clutches was 47.18%, which was significantly higher than that obtained for nests moved into a hatchery (33.1%) or for nests relocated to a safer part of the beach (27.8%).
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Vol. 6 • No. 1