Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type

Open Access Thesis

Department

Earth and Ocean Sciences

First Advisor

Joshua Eagle

Abstract

Despite the existence of various legal protections, nesting sea turtles continue to face a myriad of anthropogenic pressures. The Southeastern United States hosts vital nesting grounds for five of the world’s seven species of sea turtle – all of which are listed as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. This research characterizes the current legal frameworks and regulatory systems that have been installed for the conservation and recovery of federally protected sea turtles at the local government (county and municipal) level within four states in the southeastern U.S. – North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida. The study involved a thorough analysis of federal, state, and local government legislation and conservation efforts.

Information garnered from this analysis was supplemented with results from a survey that was sent to elected officials and other relevant stakeholders operating within jurisdictions where sea turtle nesting occurs. The survey provided insight about the perceived successes and shortcomings of various codes and ordinances implemented for the purpose of protecting sea turtles. The survey also gave respondents the opportunity to comment on specific challenges associated with sea turtle conservation efforts and coastal management within their respective jurisdictions. Local sea turtle conservation efforts were assessed by scoring survey responses to produce a “Sea Turtle Conservation Score (STCS),” which was then compared to a variety of parameters derived from historical sea turtle nesting data. Although no significant correlation was found between STCS and historical nesting data, the research did shed light on a variety of factors contributing to the overall success of sea turtle conservation practices at the local level. The information provided in this report will serve as an invaluable tool for local governments interested in improving upon existing sea turtle conservation and coastal management efforts within their jurisdiction by providing an opportunity to review common difficulties throughout the region and potential solutions moving forward.

Assessing the state of endangered species conservation and coastal management efforts will become increasingly vital for coastal communities to consider under projected climate-associated impacts.

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