|© Doug Perrine/Seapics.com. A great journey begins with the paddling of a baby Loggerhead.
We are all starting to feel the effects of global warming with increased hurricanes in the South, heat waves in the West and just more intense and crazier weather patterns around the globe. Due to the unique natural history of sea turtles, the impacts of global warming are likely to deliver a triple whammy that will be devastating- unless we act quickly.
See our report on sea turtles and climate change, Boiling Point.
Where Will Sea Turtles Nest?
Sea turtles “imprint” on the sandy beach where they hatch and return to that site decades later to repeat their ancient nesting ritual. With melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels, these beaches are starting to disappear. The direct impacts of sea level rise include loss of beaches, ecologically productive wetlands and barrier islands. Will turtles be able to adapt to rapidly rising tides? Genetic studies of sea turtle colonies suggests the answer is no; it may take 10,000 years for new turtle nesting sites to become established.
Where Have All the Male Hatchlings Gone?
The gender of a sea turtle is determined by the temperature at which the egg incubates. Increasing nest temperatures could result in all female sea turtles, which in and of itself, would cause the extinction of all the species.
What About Increasing Ocean Temperatures?
Global warming will also increase water temperatures, changing ocean currents that are critical to migrating turtles, especially baby hatchlings that are mostly transported by the currents into the open ocean thousands of miles from their nesting sites. Warming ocean temperatures are also likely to negatively impact the food resources for sea turtles and virtually all marine species.
What Can We all Do?
On an individual level, many things: reduce, reuse and re-cycle (or better yet pre-cycle). Simple things include insulating our homes, purchasing energy efficient “Star Saver” and compact fluorescent devices , and generally reducing our consumption of natural resources (most of which are produced and transported by burning fossil fuels). Even reducing water use is helpful, as municipal water districts are major users of energy. Planting native trees in strategic locations around your home also helps, the shade the trees cast can reduce your energy consumption. Trees store carbon during photosynthesis and a single tree can remove 50 pounds of carbon in a year. Native trees are adapted to your local environment and will require less watering.
We must also push our national, state and local government officals to create policies that require reduction of greenhouse gasses and to promote and adhere to international protocols now in place.
How is the Sea Turtle Restoration Project doing its part?
- We will continue to educate and empower our members to take action, whether it’s local or international.
- We will continue to work in coalition and support other NGOs that focus on global warming issues.
- We will continue to work toward being “carbon neutral” by mitigating our energy use through plantings and protection of thousands of native trees. We accomplish this through our sister program, SPAWN, which works to protect endangered salmon and re-create native forests by propagating and planting local native trees along salmon stream banks in California.
The most important and fundamental lesson of ecology is “all things are connected.” The survival of humans and sea turtles are intricately interwoven in the need to have functioning and healthy ecosystems. This means clean water and air, sane fishing policies that do not eliminate marine biodiversity (especially top predator marine species) and recognizing that there are limits to growth. As we all work toward these goals, we can create an Earth that will support current and future generations of humans and turtles.