Global warming could wipe out largest sea turtles: Study

Leatherback turtles could be wiped out completely if global temperatures continues to rise unabated.

Written by Agencies | Washington | Published: July 2, 2012 4:43 pm

Leatherback turtles,the largest sea turtle species on Earth,could be wiped out completely if global temperatures continues to rise unabated,a new study has claimed.

According to the new study,published in journal Nature Climate Change,deaths of turtle eggs and hatchlings in nests buried at hotter,drier beaches are the leading projected cause of the potential climate-related decline.

Leatherbacks are among the most critically endangered due to a combination of historical and ongoing threats,including egg poaching at nesting beaches and juvenile and adult turtles being caught in fishing operations.

The research by a team from Drexel University,Princeton University and other institutions suggests that climate change could impede this creature’s ability to recover.

If actual climate patterns follow projections in the study,the eastern Pacific leatherback turtles will decline by 75 per cent in numbers by the year 2100,the researchers said.

“We used three models of this leatherback population to construct a climate-forced population dynamics model,” study lead author Vincent Saba,a biologist and a collaborator at Princeton University,said in a statement.

“Two parts were based on the population’s observed sensitivity to the nesting beach climate and one part was based on its sensitivity to the ocean climate,” added Saba.

Leatherback turtle births naturally ebb and flow from year to year in response to climate variations,with more hatchlings,and rare pulses of male hatchlings,entering the eastern Pacific Ocean in cooler,rainier years.

Female turtles are more likely to return to nesting beaches in Costa Rica to lay eggs in years when they have more jellyfish to eat,and jellyfish in the eastern Pacific are likely more abundant during cooler seasons.

“In 1990,there were 1,500 turtles nesting on the Playa Grande beach,¿ said study co-author Dr James Spotila of the Drexel University. “Now,there are 30 to 40 nesting females per season.”

For the population to recover successfully,Spotila said,”the challenge is to produce as many good hatchlings as possible. That requires us to be hands-on and manipulate the beach to make sure that happens.”

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