Climate Change Is Turning This Sea Turtle Population Mostly Female
Animals| | By Margo Gothelf
The warming waters near the Great Barrier Reef are causing permanent problems for the green sea turtle community.
According to new research, the green sea turtle population living near Australia’s east coast are being born primarily female. A green sea turtle’s sex is not decided in a fertilization period and is instead determined by the temperature of the water in which the egg is incubated.
The waters have drastically gotten warmer due to climate change. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, turtle eggs in water below 81.86 degrees Fahrenheit will turn male, while those at 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit will turn female.
“Combining our results with temperature data show that the northern [Great Barrier Reef] green turtle rookeries have been producing primarily females for more than two decades, and that the complete feminization of this population is possible in the near future,” the co-authors wrote in a study published in Current Biology.
The study also found that the current ratio of green sea turtles is “one male for every 116 females.”
“As far as I’m aware, this is one of the first times that kind of our worst fears are coming true and that there are populations that are being exposed to such high temperatures that they are basically unisexual,” Clare Holleley, a senior research scientist with the Australian National Wildlife Collection, told NBC News. “That’s been one of the greatest conservation concerns for all of these species.”
This isn’t the first threat green sea turtles are facing. The turtles are already considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. The species also greatly impact the ecosystem, which could affect other animals if they were to die off.
“Green turtles feed on sea grass, eat on algae, and those are the base of the food chain” Jeanette Wyneken, a turtle biologist at Florida Atlantic University told the Huffington Post. “At the very best, the ecosystem becomes less diverse.”
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