Nesting site protection 'key to save turtles from climate change'

Feb 19, 2013

(Phys.org)—International marine scientists today warned it will be vital to protect key marine turtle nesting grounds, and areas that may be suitable for turtle nesting in the future, to ensure that the marine reptiles have a better chance of withstanding climate change.

A new study reveals that some turtle populations in the West Indian Ocean, Northeast Indian Ocean, North Pacific Ocean, East Atlantic Ocean and the East Pacific Ocean are among the least likely to recover from the impacts of climate change.

"To give a better chance of coping with climate change, we have to protect their nesting sites and to address threats such as bycatch and coastal development," says Dr Mariana Fuentes from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) and James Cook University.

"We have seen sea turtle populations decline dramatically in recent decades, and it is likely to get worse due to climate change, as they're particularly vulnerable to it.

"Climate change can affect their nesting beaches through sea level rise, stronger cyclones and storms; high temperatures can cause their eggs to die before they hatch, or produce an unnatural sex ratio and adversely affect their food sources.

"At present there are three ways we can tackle climate-related threats," Dr Fuentes says. "We can reduce global greenhouse emissions, actively manage for direct impacts from climate change by manipulating the nesting thermal environment with shade, for example, and build the ' resilience, that is, their ability to recover from the negative impacts.

"Reducing emissions is perhaps the biggest challenge, but even if we were able to cut immediately, it will not stop the already apparent and unavoidable impacts of climate change on turtles.

"Also, we don't know the risks of implementing actions, such as relocating, manipulating or managing turtle populations, or how effective these strategies are," she says. "So until we understand more about the risks and effects of active strategies, we should focus on increasing the turtles' resilience.

"This means that we must better understand what factors influence their ability to recover from the negative effects of climate change."

Together with sea turtle specialists from around the world, the CoECRS researchers identified that nesting ground vulnerability and non-climate threats, including coastal development and fishery bycatch, as the greatest influences on resilience of marine turtles to climate change.

The researchers also pinpointed the world's 13 turtle regional management units – large scale conservation areas – that are the least resilient to . These are distributed across three major ocean basins and are important breeding grounds for six of the world's seven species of sea turtle – flatbacks, loggerheads, green turtles, leatherbacks, hawksbills, olive ridleys and Kemp's ridleys.

"Eleven of the least resilient conservation areas that we identified are the ones most likely to lose their turtle rookeries," Dr Fuentes says. "This highlights the particular importance of protecting key regional nesting beaches and to legally protect areas that may be suitable for turtle nesting in the future.

"Turtles have existed for millions of years and were here long before humans. It would be a complete tragedy if they were to become extinct as a result of our actions and our lack of care."

Explore further: Dwindling wind may tip predator-prey balance

More information: Fuentes, M. et al. Resilience of marine turtle regional management units to climate change, Global Change Biology. See: onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10… 1/gcb.12138/abstract

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Turtle, dugongs 'at risk under climate change'

Oct 08, 2010

The "turtle and dugong capital of the world", the northern Great Barrier Reef (GBR) and Torres Strait region, faces increased pressure under climate change from human actions such as fishing, hunting, onshore development ...

Scientists warn of climate change risk to marine turtles

Feb 20, 2007

North American marine turtles are at risk if global warming occurs at predicted levels, according to scientists from the University of Exeter. An increase in temperatures of just one degree Celsius could completely eliminate ...

Five sea turtle populations are endangered

Sep 16, 2011

The United States issued a ruling on Friday saying that five world populations of loggerhead sea turtles are endangered species but four are only "threatened."

Nesting turtle numbers fall in South Asia

Dec 21, 2012

Conservationists have expressed alarm over the low number of turtles arriving on the coast of east India and Bangladesh for the nesting season, blaming overfishing and climate change for the decline.

Recommended for you

Dwindling wind may tip predator-prey balance

Sep 19, 2014

Bent and tossed by the wind, a field of soybean plants presents a challenge for an Asian lady beetle on the hunt for aphids. But what if the air—and the soybeans—were still?

Asian stars enlisted to fight African rhino poaching

Sep 19, 2014

Increasingly desperate South African conversationists are turning to a multi-national team of "rhino ambassadors" to try to end the scourge of poaching—and Vietnamese pop diva Hong Nhung has been recruited ...

Tropical fish a threat to Mediterranean Sea ecosystems

Sep 18, 2014

The tropical rabbitfish which have devastated algal forests in the eastern Mediterranean Sea pose a major threat to the entire Mediterranean basin if their distribution continues to expand as the climate ...

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Shootist
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 19, 2013
Nervous Nellie and Chicken Little join forces.

The turtle has around for 100 million years, surviving ice ages and hot houses, bolide impacts and large scale volcanic eruptions; and these nitwits believe a little changing climate is going to upset the turtles nesting routines?

Hogwash with added sewer waste.
ryggesogn2
3 / 5 (2) Feb 19, 2013
Sea turtles have adapted to continental drift.
MikPetter
not rated yet Feb 19, 2013
Numerous Families and Genus of turtle have gone extinct over geological time, some have survived but are now currently threatened by human activities and climate change impacts
"Between 48 to 54% of all 328 of their species considered threatened, turtles and tortoises are at a much higher risk of extinction than many other vertebrates. Of the 263 species of freshwater and terrestrial turtles, 117 species are considered Threatened, 73 are either Endangered or Critically Endangered and 1 is Extinct. Of the 58 species belonging to the Testudinidae family, 33 species are Threatened, 18 are either Endangered or Critically Endangered, 1 is Extinct in the wild and 7 species are Extinct. 71% of all tortoise species are either gone or almost gone. Rhodin, A.G.J.; Walde, A.D.; Horne, B.D. et al., eds. (2011)." Turtles in Trouble: The World's 25+ Most Endangered Tortoises and Freshwater Turtles—2011. Lunenburg, MA: Turtle Conservation Coalition.