Climate Change a Triple Whammy for Sea Turtles

With no action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, could out-of-control sea level rise and warmer waters submerge the famous mermaid in Copenhagen and allow sea turtles to summer in Denmark? Such a scenario may not be that far-fetched.
The new report Boiling Point by Turtle Island Restoration Network points out that climate change due to global warming is a triple whammy for declining sea turtles. Climate change is already taking a toll on the leatherback sea turtle in Costa Rica due to hot sands and submerged beaches. And in places like remote Northwestern Australia – close to the Timor oil spill – Chevron and other oil companies are destroying flatback nesting beaches and building new fossil fuel projects that will add millions of tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and oceans.
1. Rises in ocean levels mean that sandy beaches where sea turtles lay their nests are getting submerged under waves and water. This prevents adult sea turtles from returning to the beaches where they hatched to repeat their ancient nesting ritual.
2. Hotter sand temperatures result in mostly female sea turtle hatchlings. Without enough males, the species cannot survive. And if the nest sand is much too hot, no eggs will hatch at all.
3. Changes to ocean currents, temperature and acidification are likely to throw sea turtles far off normal migrations and alter food availability and abundance.
These negative impacts are magnified by the continued threats to sea turtles and human communities from industrial longline and trawl fishing, coastal development, and unsustainable direct harvest.
Boiling Point’s Conclusions and Recommendations
There are two main ways to reduce the impacts of climate change: reduce climate change emissions and strengthen the ability of endangered sea turtles and their ecosystems to survive climate change.
To reduce climate emissions, the U. S. and partner nations should lead the way to:
• Convince wealthy industrialized countries (listed in “Annex I”) to agree to at least 40 percent cuts in emissions domestically by 2020, by using green energy, sustainable transport and farming and cutting energy demand.
• Adopt a moratorium and phase-out of coal-fired power stations
• Analyze and drastically reduce the global warming impacts of industrialized fisheries, particularly wasteful longline fisheries benefitting from fuel subsidies and government grants.
• Implement a carbon tax and 100% dividend, as defined by NASA scientist James Hansen as “a mechanism for putting a price on carbon without raising money for government coffers. The idea is to tax carbon at the source, and then redistribute the revenue equally among taxpayers, so high carbon users are penalized while low carbon users are rewarded.”
• Not allow cuts to be achieved by buying carbon credits from developing countries or by buying forest in developing countries to ‘offset’ ongoing emissions in the industrialized world.
• Fund, develop and promote increased energy efficiency
• Commit rich countries to providing additional money for developing countries to grow in a clean way, and to cope with the floods, droughts and famines caused by climate change while ensuring that this money is distributed fairly and transparently.
• Consider and protect the rights of indigenous people and communities in all climate change actions and policies, ensuring climate justice
To strengthen the ability of endangered sea turtles to survive climate change, the U. S. should:
• Require analysis, regulation, avoidance, and mitigation of greenhouse gas and global warming impacts under existing environmental laws.
• Shift national endangered species conservation strategies to address the overarching threat of global warming
• Develop new laws to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate global warming impacts on biodiversity.
• Analyze, regulate, avoid and mitigate greenhouse gas and global warming impacts of U. S. fisheries and evaluate and prevent those impacts on sea turtles and other species – wasteful longline and shrimp trawl fisheries in particular.
• Respond to TIRN petition to ban the import of swordfish that does not meet minimal U. S. fishing regulations
• Establish critical habitat for the Western Pacific leatherback along the U. S. West Coast to protect key migratory and foraging habitat – which is required by law and has never been done.
• Designate North Pacific loggerheads (which nest in Japan but forage in Southern California and Baja) as a distinct population and to strengthen their status from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act.
• Designate Western North Atlantic loggerheads (which nest in Florida and Georgia) as a distinct population and to strengthen their status from threatened to endangered under the Endangered Species Act and increase protections in the loggerheads’ key nesting beaches and marine habitats.
• Establish a permanent, year-round no-trawl marine reserve along the South Texas coast to ensure long-term survival of the Kemp’s ridley sea turtle
• Extend beach protections to include buffer zones in dune habitat to accommodate rise in sea levels
• Increase protections for all critical sea turtle nesting, foraging and migratory habitat, including the implementation of marine protected areas and time/area closures
• Reduce impacts of non-climate related threats, such as bycatch in industrial fishing gear, plastic bag pollution, and development on critical nesting beaches