All-Female Sea Turtle Population May Rule If Warming Continues

Image: All-Female Sea Turtle Population May Rule If Warming Continues

Tuesday, 20 May 2014 11:50 AM

By Michael Mullins

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An all-female sea turtle population could become a reality if ocean temperatures continue to rise, according to a study published Monday.

The study published in the journal Nature Climate Change said while rising oceanic temperatures will result in a temporary population increase for the sea turtle, due to the higher percentage of females compared to males, eventually as the temperatures continue to rise fewer and fewer male turtles will be born.

As is generally accepted within the scientific community, reptile's reproduction is sensitive to temperature and will result in a lop-sided ratio of female to male offspring if they are born under warmer than usual temperatures, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

According to the study, the point of no return for the sea turtle is when the sand that incubates the eggs reaches a temperature of 84 degrees Fahrenheit after which the female percentage of hatchlings will become the overwhelmingly dominant sex born. At 86.9 degrees Fahrenheit, the sea turtle population will become entirely female.

''There'll be a bit of a breathing space … but down the track it'll be serious,'' study author Graeme Hays, a professor at the Deakin University, told The Sydney Morning Herald.

As remaining males die off, ''it will be end of story without human intervention'', Hays warned.

In addition to sand temperature, the color of the sand in which the sea turtle hatchlings are born also plays a role in their gender.

By studying sea turtles born on Cape Verde Island – off the coast of Western Africa, turtles that are born in light sand beaches have a 70.1 percent chance of being a female, while turtles that are born on beaches with darker sands have a 93.5 percent of being female.

Among the hardest hit thus far by climate change are Green Turtles in the Caribbean, according to the study, which found that their current population is just one percent of their original numbers, reported.

In addition to rising temperatures, rising sea levels also pose a risk to sea turtle populations, pushing the oceanic reptiles out of their usual nesting areas on the beach.

"Rising sea levels resulting in the loss of nesting beaches (through erosion) could push local turtle populations over the brink unless new suitable nesting beaches are found," Hays told The Sydney Morning Herald.

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