Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Turning Off the Heat: Impacts of Power Plant Decomissioning on Green Turtle Research in San Diego Bay

A paper by myself and Dr. Seminoff discusses some of the collective work of NOAA scientists during my master's program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography's Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation and may now be accessed online in Coastal Management Journal.

Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) are among the most high profile species in San Diego Bay, California, and understanding impacts of coastal development and industry is essential to the management and conservation of this local population. Here we describe power plant changing energy production and its impact on turtle habitat use and our ability to research and manage this population. For over 20 years, green sea turtles have been captured, assessed, and tagged near the South Bay Power Plant (SBPP) in the San Diego Bay; from 2002–2011, 104 turtles were captured on 212 occasions. As the 50-year-old SBPP generates less energy, effluent patterns change and water temperatures decrease, presumably to more natural conditions. There has been a concurrent decrease in turtle-capture success, perhaps due to lesser visitation to the effluent site where nets are tended. Seasonal catch-per-unit-effort declined from a high of 4.14 turtles per monitoring day, to a nine-year low of 1.33 during the 2010–2011 season. It is already apparent that management decisions related to energy policy are affecting the habitat and behavior of this stock of endangered turtles. Green turtles are expected to remain in the San Diego Bay after the SBPP becomes inoperative and continuing research will monitor future impacts and distribution shifts resulting from the expected changes in thermal pattern within south San Diego Bay. Research efforts to study this population (i.e., capture methods and locations) will require modification in response to these changes. Lessons learned here are applicable to the immediate coastal development of San Diego, as well as at similar interactions between marine turtles and industrial thermal effluent discharge throughout Southern California, the United States, and beyond.