At the time of archiving, the student author of this dissertation opted to temporarily restrict access to it. The full text of this dissertation will become available to the public after the expiration of the embargo on 2023-11-30.
In the Saudi Arabian Red Sea, two of the seven species of sea turtles are known to nest and forage along the coast, the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) and the green turtle (Chelonia mydas). As a result of some life history characteristics, sea turtles are particularly vulnerable to anthropogenic impacts. Under Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 and the recent opening of its borders to recreational tourists, the country aims to develop several large-scale projects along the Red Sea coast, locally known as “giga-projects”. Thus, imminent pressures from coastal development highlight the urgency needed for multi-country cooperation in protecting sea turtles in the region.
This dissertation aims to establish some baseline data and protocols for future work to meet the data needs of the relevant conservation authorities in Saudi Arabia. In particular, this thesis contributes new and important information to some of the identified knowledge gaps for the Red Sea region, including sea turtle habitat use, threat assessment (plastic and heavy metal pollution), and evaluating hatching success. I used satellite telemetry to understand foraging home ranges of hawksbill and green turtles, post-nesting migrations, and inter-nesting habitat use of green turtles. Additionally, I used photo identification to understand the abundance and behavior of turtles at a Rabigh fringing reef, in the central Red Sea. I assessed two anthropogenic contaminants as a threat to Red Sea turtles: heavy metal contamination and plastic ingestion. Heavy metal concentrations in the sand were evaluated at the largest green turtle rookery in Saudi Arabia, Ras Baridi, which is located next to a cement factory. I also assessed the concentration of heavy metals in the tissues of dead hatchlings found at Ras Baridi. Additionally, I studied plastic ingestion in ten deceased turtles found along the Saudi Arabian Red Sea. In my last data chapter, I assessed the hatching success of green turtle nests, and investigated clutch relocation as a possible method of increasing success. The final chapter summarizes the results from this research in the context of the 2004 PERSGA Marine Turtle Conservation Plan, and provides possible conservation strategy recommendations to protect Red Sea turtles