Highly productive hotspots in the ocean often occur where complex physical forcing mechanisms lead to aggregation of primary and secondary producers. Understanding how hotspots persist, however, requires combining knowledge of the spatio-temporal linkages between geomorphology, physical forcing, and biological responses with the physiological requirements and movement of top predators.
Here we integrate remotely sensed oceanography, ship surveys, and satellite telemetry to show how local geomorphology interacts with physical forcing to create a region with locally enhanced upwelling and an adjacent upwelling shadow that promotes retentive circulation, enhanced year-round primary production, and prey aggregation. These conditions provide an area within the upwelling shadow where physiologically optimal water temperatures can be found adjacent to a region of enhanced prey availability, resulting in a foraging hotspot for loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) off the Baja California peninsula, Mexico.
We have identified the set of conditions that lead to a persistent top predator hotspot, which increases our understanding of how highly migratory species exploit productive regions of the ocean. These results will aid in the development of spatially and environmentally explicit management strategies for marine species of conservation concern.