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Coastal development at sea turtles nesting ground: Efforts to establish
a tool for supporting conservation and coastal management in
Gustave G. Lopez
, Eduardo de C. Sali
, Paulo H. Lara
, Frederico Tognin
Maria A. Marcovaldi
, Thiago Z. Seraﬁni
o-TAMAR, Rua Rubens Guelli, 134 SL 307, Salvador, Bahia, CEP 41815-135, Brazil
Departamento de Ci^
encias do Mar, Universidade Federal de S~
ao Paulo eDCMar/UNIFESP, 11030-400, Santos, SP, Brazil
Received 24 October 2014
Received in revised form
27 July 2015
Accepted 30 July 2015
Available online xxx
While tropical and subtropical coastal areas are considered prime areas for a wide range of tourism
projects, they also host important sea turtle nesting grounds. Preserving these nesting areas is critical to
ensure reproductive success and maintain viable sea turtle populations. The northern coast of the State of
Bahia, in northeastern Brazil, is an important sea turtle nesting ground. Sea turtle conservation activities
in Brazil began in 1980, focusing initially on reducing harvesting of nesting females and egg collection.
Recently, new threats resulting from unplanned coastal development have emerged. In this paper, a
geospatial tool, as an initiative of the Brazilian National Sea Turtle Conservation Program (TAMAR) to
identify key areas for sea turtle nesting along the coast northern coast of Bahia, is presented. A Sensitivity
Map was created, using a detailed GIS map graded by colors representing relevance levels of the coast for
sea turtle nesting. From this map, recommendations of management practices that correspond to each
sensitivity category can be made. This methodology allows for the identiﬁcation of critical sea turtle
habitats and the subsequent implementation of mitigation measures at nesting beaches, as well support
coastal management policies.
©2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Coastal development has been taking over tropical coastal and
adjacent sea turtle nesting beaches. If poorly managed such
development can damage the natural environment, especially
without environmental planning legislation and adequate imple-
mentation (Hall, 2001; Orams, 2003; Lee, 2010; El Mrini et al.,
2012). In Brazil, the northern coast of Bahia is an important nest-
ing ground, primarily for loggerheads (Caretta caretta), olive ridleys
(Lepidochelys olivacea) and hawksbills (Eretmochelys imbricata), and
to a lesser extent for green turtles (Chelonia mydas). Sea turtle
conservation initiatives in Brazil began in 1980, with the creation of
Projeto TAMAR (Brazilian National Sea Turtle Conservation
Program) (Marcovaldi and Marcovaldi, 1999).
Until 1950, the northern coast of Bahia was considered a poorly
developed and sparsely populated agricultural region. In the early
1970s, a phase of Petrochemical industrial development took place
in the municipalities neighboring Salvador. In the 1990s a state
highway was completed connecting Salvador to the northern area
through the coastline, allowing for the expansion of tourism and
urban development. At this time, the Brazilian Government
launched a tourism development program in Northeast Brazil
named PRODETUR/NE (Programa de Desenvolvimento do Turismo no
Nordeste), in order to boost the tourism industry in this region.
Since then, large public and private investments have been made,
mainly for the provision of basic infrastructure and support for
tourism development (Lyrio, 2003; Silva et al., 2008). Currently, the
coastline is characterized by a highly consolidated urban area in
Salvador that decreases toward north.
At the start of TAMAR's activities in the 1980s, the main threats
for the sea turtles were the direct harvesting of eggs and nesting
females on the beach. Egg poaching was widespread all along the
*Corresponding author. Rua Rubens Guelli, 134 SL 307, Salvador, Bahia, CEP
E-mail addresses: firstname.lastname@example.org (G.G. Lopez), email@example.com
es), firstname.lastname@example.org (P.H. Lara), email@example.com (F. Tognin),
firstname.lastname@example.org (M.A. Marcovaldi), thiago.seraﬁni@unifesp.br (T.Z. Seraﬁni).
Contents lists available at ScienceDirect
Ocean & Coastal Management
journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/ocecoaman
0964-5691/©2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Ocean & Coastal Management 116 (2015) 270e276
coast, often approaching 100% of all eggs laid. However, poaching
was primarily for local subsistence as no formal markets for turtle
products existed (Marcovaldi and Marcovaldi, 1999). After decades
of conservation efforts, which included the involvement and
participation of local communities as well as other stakeholders,
the number of eggs laid by loggerhead (Marcovaldi and Chaloupka,
2007), hawksbill (Marcovaldi et al., 2007), olive ridley (Silva et al.,
2007), and leatherback turtles (Thom
e et al., 2007) gradually
Unfortunately, while the threat of egg poaching and harvesting
of nesting females was being reduced, over the last two decades
new threats have become increasingly evident. Intensive develop-
ment in the coastal zones not only places sea turtle populations at
risk (i.e. artiﬁcial lighting, shoreline armoring, beach driving) but
also degrades the ecosystems (i.e. pollution, erosion, overﬁshing).
In the northern coast of Bahia, most of the environmental degra-
dation and habitat loss are due to urban development, where
several resort projects and super-sized condominiums are imple-
mented every year (Lyrio, 2003; Silva et al., 2008). An evaluation on
the recreational quality and the carrying capacity of beaches on
northern Bahia revealed that many beaches currently undergoing
development have problems of carrying capacity as well as
important environmental constraints (Silva et al., 2012).
This new regional development poses challenges to sea turtle
conservation, requiring the creation of an appropriate institutional
framework for coastal management to mitigate the potential
negative impacts to these animals. The aim of this study is to pre-
sent a Sensitivity Map Guide and some preliminary results of its
application, as an initiative to create a supportive tool for coastal
management and conservation in Bahia northern coast, focusing on
sea turtle nest protection. It includes a detailed GIS map graded by
colors representing relevance levels of the coast for sea turtle
nesting, and recommendations of management practices that
correspond to each sensitivity category. It has the potential to be
applicable to other sea turtle nesting areas under intense devel-
2. The methodological approach of the Sensitivity Map Guide
for sea turtle nesting ground conservation
The Sensitivity Map Guide and best practical measures for
safeguarding sea turtle nesting grounds in Bahia were developed
according to the TAMAR's standard sea turtle conservation prac-
tices. This includes daily and night beach patrols to locate nests, in
situ nest monitoring, and relocation of at risk nests to other beaches
and/or open-air hatcheries, as well as community outreach and
education within the coastal villages (Marcovaldi and Marcovaldi,
1999). The Guide was based on Environmental Sensitivity Index
(ESI) mapping for oil spill contingency planning and response (e.g.
Jensen et al., 1998). We used Geographic Information System eGIS
tools to rate sea turtle nesting beaches with different levels of
The northern Bahia coastline was divided into 214 km (covering
34 beaches). According to TAMAR's ﬁeldwork routines (for details
see Marcovaldi and Marcovaldi, 1999) the kilometer of each sea
turtle nesting activity, and its biological information, is registered in
a database. Three relevance levels were created, based on the
number of nests per kilometer (nest density), using the data from
the last ﬁve nesting seasons (from 2007/2008 to 2011/2012), as
follows: level one (low relevance ¼0e20 nests/km); level two
(medium relevance ¼21e60 nests/km) and level three (high
relevance 60 nests/km). The criterion used for determining the
number of classes and the nest densities for each one of them was
based on TAMAR's expertise and the relative abundance of sea
turtle nests on the northern coast of Bahia.
Along with the Guide, recommendations for sea turtle conser-
vation were made according to each level, so that sections with
higher relevance levels would require the greater protection
3. Results and discussion
High relevance areas comprise nearly 43% of the nests laid on
the northern coast of Bahia, and represent only 14% of the coastline
length (Table 1). It was possible to protect areas of high nest den-
sities without necessarily classifying the entire coast as a high
relevance area. The use of GIS mapping provides visual display of
data that can be easily accessed to identify the relevance level of a
speciﬁc location along the coast, thus, facilitating its use by coastal
management stakeholders (Fig. 1).
This methodology is an especially useful tool given that sea
turtles exhibit nesting site ﬁdelity resulting in consistent nest
density from season to season (Marcovaldi et al., 2010; Matos et al.,
2012). However, an ongoing review of each subsequent nesting
season is critical to eventually adjust the level of importance of each
For each level of relevance, recommendations for sea turtle
nesting ground conservation were established. All the recommen-
dations were based on internationally recognized best practices for
safeguarding sea turtle nesting grounds (e.g. Eckert et al., 1999;
Witherington and Martin, 2000). They include standard guide-
lines for coastal lighting, beach use, building setbacks, and others,
some of them supported by sea turtles speciﬁc protection regula-
tion (Table 2). The recommendations presented here focus mainly
on the negative effects of light-pollution and increased human use
of nesting beaches, since coastal development did not aggravate the
old threats (e.g. egg poaching), but it has triggered new problems.
Light pollution, which can be deﬁned as the introduction of
artiﬁcially produced light into pristine areas, is considered one of
the greatest threats to nesting females and to hatchling survival.
Hatchlings typically emerge from the nests at night and use visual
cues to ﬁnd the ocean. As such, artiﬁcial lights can disrupt hatchling
sea-ﬁnding behavior, making them more susceptible to mortality
associated with exhaustion, dehydration, predation, among others,
and can also disorient nesting females (Witherington and Martin,
Along the northern Bahia coast, disruption of hatchling orien-
tation due to artiﬁcial lighting is becoming much more frequent,
especially in more densely populated areas (Seraﬁni et al., 2010).
Since the 1990s, federal and state laws prohibit any artiﬁcial
lighting on sea turtle nesting beaches on northern Bahia. Recom-
mendations to prevent light-pollution seek to ensure compliance
with legislation, and also to use global best practices to minimize
the light-pollution impacts on sea turtle nesting grounds.
The building's distance, height and occupancy level near nesting
beaches, as well as the quantity of users and the nature of beach
activities has a direct impact on the sea turtle nesting grounds. For
these reasons, measures such as construction setbacks, “turtle
friendly”lighting and construction regulations (e.g. building size
and occupancy limit) can help reduce the threats generated by
coastal development. Setback regulations must be implemented
not only to address light pollution and habitat alteration, but also to
prevent expected impacts as a result of rising sea levels (Fish et al.,
2008; Mazaris et al., 2009).
The federal and state environmental legislation in Bahia pro-
vides setback regulations (50 m from the beach) that may be
appropriate for most sea turtle nesting areas (low relevance).
However, in areas of greatest relevance (medium and high rele-
vance) the setback regulation may be more restrictive, considering
the importance of these areas as sea turtle nesting grounds.
G.G. Lopez et al. / Ocean & Coastal Management 116 (2015) 270e276 271
Additionally, building features (e.g. number of ﬂoors and occupancy
limit) are determined by speciﬁc regulations, such as the environ-
mental licensing legislation or coastal zone management tools (e.g.
ecological-economic zoning). By regulating building features, it is
possible to minimize disturbances on nesting beaches.
Due to the intense development of the mass tourism industry
Relevance levels and its correlation with nest density classes on northern Bahia.
Relevance level Signiﬁcance Nest density classes Number of nests
1 Low 1 to 20 1,020 15 95 44
2 Medium 21 to 60 2,924 42 90 42
3 High Up to 60 2,969 43 29 14
Based on the average of the last ﬁve nesting seasons (2007/2008 to 2011/2012) (TAMAR, database).
Fig. 1. A GIS map of Bahia, Brazil, with areas of coastline graded by colors, representing the amount of sea turtle nests per kilometer (levels of relevance). Land use strategies that
correspond to each level were developed to help protect sea turtles in the area.
G.G. Lopez et al. / Ocean & Coastal Management 116 (2015) 270e276272
along the northern coast of Bahia in recent decades, hundreds of
thousands of visitors are attracted to the beach for recreational use.
Major tourist destinations in the area include the beaches adjacent
to Salvador and some urban-villages along the coastline, as well as
sandy beaches in front of large tourist developments. Unfortu-
nately, this results in the common removal of beach vegetation for
leisure purposes, which disrupts nest site selection by sea turtle
females and subsequent egg incubation (Seraﬁni et al., 2009).
Intensive beach use could also potentially reduce hatchling success
from trampling, due to the effect of sand hardness (Kudo et al.,
2003). The introduction of beach furniture (e.g. beach chairs and
umbrellas) and recreational equipment (e.g. sailboats), especially if
they remain on the beach at night, may harm, disturb and entrap
nesting sea turtles and hatchlings, as well as compact the surface of
the sand, killing the eggs within the nests.
Controlling human access to nesting areas and recreational
beach use becomes crucial, especially in areas of high relevance.
With the exception of speciﬁc legislation prohibiting vehicle trafﬁc
on beaches, many of the coastal recreational activities are not
regulated by any laws or management tools, requiring cooperation
among users and other stakeholders to minimize the impacts on
sea turtles and their nesting beaches.
3.1. Using the guide to promote conservation of Bahia's sea turtle
One of the immediate applications of the Guide has been the
environmental licensing process of major tourism projects. In
Brazil, large developments located in areas of high environmental
signiﬁcance, require the preparation of an Environmental Impact
Assessment (EIA). When these developments are also located on
sea turtle nesting beaches, Brazilian law stipulates that the
licensing process can only become effective after evaluation and
recommendation of the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and
Natural Resources (IBAMA) and after hearing the Brazilian National
Sea Turtle Conservation Program eCentro TAMAR (National Envi-
ronmental Council eCONAMA Resolution n
10 from October 24,
1996) recommendations. The EIA is required to provide detailed
information about the proposal, the potential environmental im-
pacts (taking into account the presence of endangered species, such
as sea turtles) and the practical measures to mitigate negative
The Guide has been used to provide a basis for entrepreneurs
when preparing their projects and what measures are needed to
mitigate the potential impacts on beaches and sea turtles. For
example, between 2007 and 2009 on Guarajuba beach, a medium-
sized beach front hotel (about 1000 guests) was established in a sea
turtle nesting area of high relevance (Fig. 2). During the environ-
mental licensing process, the project was designed to allow for the
operation of the hotel in accordance with the recommendations to
protect sea turtle nesting areas. As a result, the beach in front of the
hotel provides suitable conditions for the maintenance of nests in
situ, especially with regard to the incidence of light on the beach. All
light sources have been designed so that the effect of direct and
indirect lighting of the project was minimized (Fig. 3).
The Guide has also been used to conduct efforts of TAMAR to
deal with threatens. For example, beaches shown in Fig. 2,were
mainly pristine in the until the 1990's. Limited beach use bytourists
and local residents permitted the preservation of sea turtle nests in
situ. However, by the early 2000s, the occupancy of the entire
length of the coast (16 km) by second residence condominiums and
hotels increased, resulting in signiﬁcant light-pollution and heavy
beach use. This forced TAMAR to relocate clutches to a beach
hatchery or more suitable nest sites. For instance, on Itacimirim
beach all clutches were transferred to the Praia do Forte's beach
hatchery up until the 2009/2010 nesting season (n¼105, 100%).
However, after implementing appropriate management practices
based on the recommendations of the Guide, during subsequent
nesting seasons (2010/2011 and 2011/2012), half of the clutches
(n ¼146, 62% and n ¼76, 51%, respectively) were able to be left in
situ due to improved habitat conditions (TAMAR, database).
This example illustrate that by implementing the recommen-
dations of the Guide with beach front developments, it is possible
to encourage habitat recovery enough so that turtle nests can
remain in situ. Priority recommendations were based on reducing
the amount of light that reaches the nesting beaches. Night-time
inspections were conducted in order to identify light sources
observable from the beach. Hotel, condominium and resort projects
were encouraged to incorporate “sea turtle friendly lighting”into
their buildings (Fig. 4). Environmental education campaigns were
also carried out in order to raise public awareness of the impact of
light pollution on sea turtles.
In addition to the immediate application of the environmental
licensing processes in the improvement of existing urban infra-
structure, the Guide was initially used as a tool for coastal man-
agement and conservation policies. One of the current uses is to
establish priority zones for environment conservation in the state
of Bahia. This is part of the Brazilian effort to achieve international
conservation goals deﬁned by The Convention on Biological Di-
versity. This initiative has been coordinated by the World Wide
Fund for Nature (WWF), in order to plan a map of priority zones in
Bahia. The areas mapped in the Guide were integrated in the
methodology (based on the Software MARXAN for spatial conser-
vation prioritization eBall et al., 2009) to create a map of priority
Recommendations for safeguarding sea turtle nesting beaches, taking into account their level of relevance.
Features Relevance levels
Low (level 1) Medium (level 2) High (level 3)
Construction setbacks 60 m 120 m 180 m
Floors or levels of buildings eFront buildings with a single ﬂoor All buildings with a single ﬂoor
Occupancy density High Medium Low
Beachfront lighting Low and indirect lighting behind the
Indirect lighting and control of light
Fully shielded indirect lighting
Beach access eRestricted access Very restricted access or no access at all
Beach use No habitat changes No habitat changes No habitat changes
Beach furniture and recreational
Place beach furniture and recreational
equipment at a minimum distance
from the sea turtle nests
Avoid non-permanent structures (e.g.
beach umbrella) on nesting beaches
and remove at night
Restrict non-permanent structures (e.g. beach
umbrella) on nesting beaches and remove furniture
and recreational equipment at night
Beach use at night eAvoid walking on the beach at night
during sea turtle nesting season
Do not walk on the beach at night during sea turtle
G.G. Lopez et al. / Ocean & Coastal Management 116 (2015) 270e276 273
zones for biodiversity conservation. The areas mapped in the Guide
and identiﬁed as a high level of relevance for sea turtle nesting
were designated as targets for conservation efforts.
Other current uses has been to support the management of a
Protected Area in the Bahia northern coast. In the late 1990s and
early 2000s the government of Bahia created six Protected Areas for
sustainable use called Environmental Protected Areas (APA e
ao Ambiental)(Fig. 1)(Oliveira, 2002). The APA Litoral
Norte is the largest (142,000 ha), and since 2014, Bahia's govern-
ment is revising its ten year old Management Plan. The levels of
relevance mapped in the Guide serves as a base to determine po-
tential uses of the coast, in order to ensure the protection of sea
turtle relevant nesting areas inside the APA area.
The Sensitivity Map Guide presented here for sea turtle nesting
ground conservation could potentially improve: (i) the quality of
the development projects implemented in Bahia northern coast
regarding sea turtle nesting protection, especially in the EIA pro-
cess; (ii) guide entrepreneurs in the selection of areas for tourism
projects, avoiding areas of high relevance for sea turtle nesting; (ii)
guide the effort of TAMAR's conservation activities in the areas of
high level of relevance for sea turtle nesting; and (iii) create a tool
Fig. 2. The map shows a coastline segment of northern Bahia, northeastern Brazil, which is one of the largest nesting areas in Brazil, but also is considered a popular destination for
G.G. Lopez et al. / Ocean & Coastal Management 116 (2015) 270e276274
to support decision-making on coastal planning and conservation,
as management plans of Protected Areas, and efforts to establishing
proprietary zones for biodiversity conservation.
The potential use of the Guide for coastal management on the
northern coast of Bahia depends on political efforts in order to
encourage proper use by local stakeholders through the support of
public policies for integrated coastal management. Nevertheless,
this initiative represents an important effort for sea turtle and
coastal conservation in Brazil, and could be used as a tool in other
tropical coastal zones under high coastal development pressures.
Its integration with public policies for coastal management could
improve not just sea turtle conservation, but also the coastal
stewardship through the deﬁnition of sensitive areas for coastal
Fig. 3. Development of a light-pollution mitigation strategy in a medium scale hotel on northern Bahia.
Fig. 4. Public sidewalk along a sea turtle nesting beach on northern Bahia, before (left) and after (right) lighting inspections and corrective measures.
G.G. Lopez et al. / Ocean & Coastal Management 116 (2015) 270e276 275
We thank all the TAMAR staff for generously helping us in this
study. We are also grateful to Daphne Wrobel and Ashley Byun
McKay for providing constructive comments that improved the
quality of the manuscript, and to Coordenaç~
ao de Aperfeiçoamento
de Pessoal de Nível Superior (CAPES/Ci^
encias do Mar, Postdoctoral
Fellowship to TZS). Projeto TAMAR, a conservation program of the
Brazilian Ministry of the Environment, is afﬁliated with ICMBio, co-
managed by Fundaç~
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