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Sea Turtles Under Threat From Climate Change

sea turtle swimming in the ocean, the coral reef is dying and the ocean looks bleak

Climate change

As our planets heat up, we’re living through more extreme weather, floods, fires and droughts and the threats that arise from climate change are increasingly becoming a more frequent household conversation. Fragile ecosystems, which are already on the brink due to human activities like industrial development, unsustainable fishing and shipping practices, are being pushed past their limit by climate change.

The ocean plays an essential role within the environment, covering 71% of the earth's surface and providing 50-80% of oxygen into the atmosphere.

A sea turtle's life is a struggle for survival from the day they are hatched. For every 1,000 sea turtle eggs laid only around one will actually reach adulthood due to natural predators and other obstacles. Some are hunted for their meat, eggs and shells, some of their beach habitats get developed on and some of their waters and beaches are polluted with harmful debris and oil spills.

Since 1970, we have lost 69% of all wildlife populations and climate change is making our most precious wildlife even more vulnerable. The effects of climate change are having enormous impacts on sea turtles and other wildlife. The rate of climate change far exceeds the abilities of animals to adapt naturally to such dramatic environmental changes.

They've ventured the oceans for over 100 million years, but we could now be witnessing the end of their journey as climate change is exposing sea turtles to even greater existential threats.

Changing oceans

Sea levels rising from the melting of polar ice is already contributing to the loss of beach and nesting habitats. The increase of weather extremes will mean more frequent and severe storms which alter nesting beaches, cause beach erosion, and inundate, or flood sea turtle nests.

Sea turtles use ocean currents to travel and find prey. Warming ocean temperatures influence migratory species by altering currents and impacting the distribution and abundance of prey species and potential new predators.

Coral reefs

50% of the world's coral reefs have been lost and the rest could disappear completely by 2050 if climate change change remains unchecked.

Warmer water temperatures also affect coral reefs through coral bleaching which are vital to the survival of sea turtle species like the hawksbill. Cooler ocean temperatures are associated with higher productivity, thus providing more food for many organisms – including sea turtles. Warmer oceans and less food available leads to decreased nesting activity and fewer sea turtles being born thus causing concern for the future of the species.

Abundance of females

Rising temperatures lead to warming of the sand, this can result in decreased hatchling rates or even complete nest failure. The increased temperature also affects the hatchlings by altering natural sex ratios. Due to sea turtles being reptiles, they rely on the temperature of the sand, in which the turtles incubate, to determine the gender of the hatchling in a nest. Typically, the eggs in the warmer part of the nest will become female whilst the eggs in the cooler part of the nest will become males. A study conducted in Australia found that 99% of the green sea turtles around Raine Island were female. The increasing temperatures will create a significant threat to genetic diversity.

A study investigating the potential impacts of climate change on a marine turtle population found that it was highly unlikely that turtles would be able to adapt to significant changes in the temperature therefore putting them at significant risk for extinction.

How can we help?

Whilst there is much debate about climate change and actions that can impact temperature, there are simple steps people can and should take to make a difference:

  • Purchase energy star qualified appliances

  • Replace incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient fluorescents

  • Reduce, reuse, and recycle all plastic, gas and paper waste

  • Use energy-saving methods of transportation

  • Tell a friend about the problems the sea turtles and Earth are facing; knowledge is power and collective influence can force change

  • Plant vegetation along beaches to provide better nesting habitat

  • Look for alternative sources of energy, like solar or wind

  • Write to law makers to encourage more efficient use of energy

Any efforts to tackle climate change will help give the next generation of sea turtles a fighting chance of survival and help eliminate the threat of extinction!


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