Spatial analysis of marine turtle strandings data in the Hawaiian Islands for the period 2002-2007
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is becoming a very important and useful tool in conservation planning and is applied here to examine the relationship between marine turtles and their environment in the Hawaiian Islands. This project spatially analyzed the locations of marine turtle strandings reported in Hawaii over a six-year period (2002 – 2007). The data include location, assigned cause of stranding, and other related characteristics relevant to the strandings such as presence of Fibropapillomatosis (FP, a tumor-forming disease) and evidence of fishing gear interaction. The use of spatial analysis for both coastal fishing gear interactions and hawksbill turtle strandings was useful for a visual representation of these events; however, no significant patterns were discovered. The spatial analysis of the stranding data in combination with environmental parameters proved most interesting. Overall, there is a strong correlation between FP-related strandings and areas of limited water quality and human population, respectively, and a moderate correlation between FP-related strandings and agricultural lands. A high prevalence of FP has been shown in previous studies to correspond to coastal waters characterized by habitat degradation and pollution, suggesting that one or more of these factors could serve as an environmental cofactor in the development of FP. A clear target for mitigation strategies that would benefit not only marine turtles afflicted with this disease, but all other organisms that share the same ecosystem, is water quality improvement in coastal areas of the Hawaiian Islands.