Scientists have found hawksbill turtles “hiding” in mangrove forests of the eastern Pacific.
The team, that has been tracking the turtles for three years, also found that the critically endangered animals nested in these estuaries.
The discovery of this previously unknown sea turtle habitat was published recently in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.
It could explain why the species went undetected in the region for so long.
Mangrove forests, which are unique coastal tree and shrub habitats, are also under threat. They could represent an important breeding and nesting site for the species, which was thought to depend on coral reefs.
Alexander Gaos, a conservation scientist with San Diego State University and the Eastern Pacific Hawksbill Initiative, led the research.
He and his colleagues tracked hawksbills in four countries – El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Ecuador – using satellite tracking tags glued to the turtles’ backs.
These trackers revealed that adult hawksbill turtles in the eastern Pacific inhabited in-shore mangrove estuaries.
“For upwards of five decades sea turtle scientists thought hawksbills had [disappeared from] the eastern Pacific Ocean”, Dr Gaos told BBC Nature.
“Despite hundreds of sea turtle projects and scientists focusing efforts in the region, no one had located hawksbills.
Our findings help explain this