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Sea Turtles and Climate Change: How Rising Temperatures Affect Survival

Article by GVI


Posted: February 17, 2023

Sea turtles are considered a keystone species in many marine ecosystems due to their role in providing food and shelter to other species. Unfortunately, many populations of sea turtles are threatened by the effects of climate change. Rising temperatures due to global warming have a devastating effect on sea turtles, impacting everything from their health to their migration patterns. To better understand the impact of climate change on sea turtle populations, it is important to look at the various ways in which rising temperatures affect survival.

The Effects of Climate Change on Sea Turtle Populations

As global temperatures rise, sea turtle populations are at risk of decline. This is because rising temperatures can disrupt the nesting and egg development of sea turtles, as well as their feeding practices. As sea turtle habitats become warmer, reproductive success decreases, leading to fewer viable eggs being laid and fewer hatchlings surviving to adulthood. Additionally, warming waters can decrease food sources for sea turtles, as reduced oxygen levels can lead to decreased populations of prey species. The combined effects of temperature rise and decreased food sources can have a drastic impact on sea turtle populations.

In addition to the direct effects of climate change on sea turtles, there are also indirect effects. For example, rising sea levels can lead to the destruction of nesting sites, as well as the displacement of sea turtles from their natural habitats. This can lead to a decrease in the number of nesting sites available, as well as a decrease in the number of sea turtles that can find suitable habitats. Furthermore, increased ocean acidification can lead to a decrease in the number of prey species available to sea turtles, further exacerbating the effects of climate change on their populations.

Rising Water Temperatures and Sea Turtle Health

In addition to decreasing reproductive success and food availability, rising water temperatures can also affect the health of sea turtles. Temperature increases in the oceans can lead to an increased growth rate of certain parasites and microorganisms, resulting in higher rates of infection among sea turtles. In addition, rising water temperatures can increase the toxicity of certain harmful substances in the sea, such as pesticides or heavy metals, potentially leading to health issues for sea turtles that may not have previously affected these animals.

The effects of rising water temperatures on sea turtles can be especially severe in areas where the water temperature is already high. In these areas, the increase in temperature can cause sea turtles to become stressed and unable to regulate their body temperature, leading to a decrease in their overall health. Additionally, the increased temperature can cause sea turtles to become more susceptible to diseases, as their immune systems are weakened by the heat.

The Impact of Ocean Acidification on Sea Turtle Habitats

Ocean acidification is another major concern for sea turtle habitats. As carbon dioxide from the atmosphere accumulates in the oceans, ocean pH levels drop, resulting in the acidification of marine environments. This can cause a decrease in food availability for sea turtles and other ocean creatures, as well as lead to decreased water quality and increased levels of pollutants. Additionally, acidification can cause degraded coral reefs and seagrass beds, both of which provide important habitats and resources for sea turtles.

Threats to Sea Turtles from Increasing Coastal Development

Coastal development poses another major threat to sea turtle populations. Increasingly frequent and intense storms associated with climate change can lead to increased erosion and flooding, resulting in the degradation of beach habitats where sea turtles often nest. Additionally, as coastal development increases, it leads to more light pollution at beaches, which can disorient nesting females and increase the number of eggs that are not viable. Finally, expanding beach construction projects can lead to the direct destruction of nesting and hatching sites, leading to further declines in sea turtle populations.

What Can Be Done to Help Protect Sea Turtles from Climatic Changes?

Many conservation efforts have been put in place to protect sea turtle populations from the effects of climate change. These efforts include proper enforcement of fishing regulations which protect nesting sites from commercial fishing; beach lighting restrictions to provide darkening beach environments for nesting; pollution control management; and proper beach and coastal management plans.

A Closer Look at How Rising Temperatures Impact Sea Turtle Migration Patterns

Rising water temperatures are also impacting the migration patterns of sea turtles, as they are required by environmental conditions adapted by their ancestors. Warmer waters mean longer migrations for turtles as they search for cooler habitats for nesting and foraging. This can cause additional stress on their bodies and more energy expenditure, weakening them and making them more susceptible to the various threats posed by climate change and human activity.

The Role of Human Activity in Sea Turtle Extinction Risk

Humans are a major source of stress on sea turtle populations. The direct harvesting of eggs and accidental capture in fishing operations cause mortality, with nesting activities further stressed by beach construction projects, tourism and illumination associated with human activity. Additionally, more indirect stressors such as oil spills, plastic pollution and general water pollution impair their taxonomic viability.

Evaluating the Long-Term Effects of Climate Change on Sea Turtles

The long-term effects of climate change remain unknown, but it is certain that the survival of threatened sea turtle populations is significantly jeopardized by global warming and its associated environmental threats. If nothing is done to reduce the effects of climate change, many species could face extinction due to changes in temperatures that alter migration patterns and reproductive success or increasing toxicity levels which affect air quality and lead to further health issues.

Conclusion: Taking Action for the Preservation of Sea Turtles

Sea turtle populations are threatened by human activity as well as climatic changes resulting from global warming. Therefore, it is essential that society takes action to reduce emissions leading to climatic changes and takes steps such as enforcing fishing legislation and monitoring coastal development projects to help protect our vulnerable marine life.

You can directly contribute to the protection of sea turtles by joining one of the many impactful marine conservation volunteering programs offered by GVI. You’ll join forces with local turtle conservation initiatives in locations like Thailand, Mexico and Greece, to ensure that the turtle populations thrive for generations to come.

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