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Sci Total Environ. 2013 Oct 1;463-464:61-71. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2013.05.067. Epub 2013 Jun 19.

Mercury and selenium concentrations in leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea): population comparisons, implications for reproductive success, hazard quotients and directions for future research.

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Department of Biological Sciences, Florida Atlantic University, Building 01, Sanson Science, 777 Glades Road, Boca Raton, FL 33431, USA. Electronic address:


Leatherback sea turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) are long-distance migrants that travel thousands of km from foraging grounds to breeding and nesting grounds. These extensive journeys are fueled by ingestion of an estimated 300-400 kg of prey/d and likely result in exposure to high concentrations of environmental toxicants (e.g., mercury compounds). Increased bodily concentrations of mercury and its compounds in nesting female turtles may have detrimental effects on reproductive success. Leatherbacks have relatively low reproductive success compared with other sea turtles (global average hatching success ~50-60%). To assess toxicants and necessary nutrients as factors affecting leatherback turtle reproductive success at Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge (SPNWR), St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, we collected blood from nesting female leatherbacks and tissues from their hatchlings (blood from live turtles, liver and yolk sac from dead turtles). We compared the concentrations in those tissues to hatching and emergence success. We found that on SPNWR, hatching and emergence success were more closely related to seasonal factors than to total mercury and selenium concentrations in both nesting females and hatchlings. Selenium concentrations of nesting females were positively correlated with those of their hatchlings. Mercury and selenium in the liver of hatchlings were positively correlated with one another. Turtles with greater remigration intervals tended to have higher blood selenium concentrations, suggesting that selenium accumulates in leatherbacks through time. Through hazard quotients, we found evidence that selenium may be at or above concentrations that may cause physiologic harm to hatchlings. We also found evidence that population level differences exist for these trace elements. The concentrations of mercury and selenium established in this manuscript form a baseline for future toxicant studies.


Dermochelys coriacea; Emergence success; Hatching success; Hazard quotients; Mercury; Selenium

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