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STRP Tells Secretary Salazar: Climate Impacts of Oil Drilling Threaten Sea Turtles

The Sea Turtle Restoration Project joins hundreds of concerned citizens today to speak out against drilling for oil off the California coast and the development of additional fossil fuel energy sources. As climate change scientists realize that global temperatures and sea levels are rising much faster than previous anticipated, the dangers posed to worldwide sea turtle populations are also quickly escalating.

“With melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels, many sea turtle’s nesting beaches are going to disappear for as long as 10,000 years,” said Mike Milne, Leatherback Campaigner for the Sea Turtle Restoration Project. “If sea turtles are to survive, we must cut our greenhouse gas emissions and end our dependence on fossil fuels, not drill for oil off the California coast!”

Due to their unique natural history, the impacts of global warming are likely to deliver a triple whammy to sea turtles that will be devastating—unless we act quickly. Sea turtles “imprint” on the sandy beach where they hatch, and return decades later to nest. With melting polar ice caps and rising sea levels, these beaches are starting to disappear. Genetic studies of sea turtle colonies suggests it may take 10,000 years for new turtle nesting sites to become established.

“If we can’t solve this crisis, sea turtles will be joining polar bears on the list of species our grandchildren will probably never see. Sea turtles outlived the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs, but global carbon emissions are now a greater threat, ” said Milne.

Scientists are also starting to report that increasing nest temperatures are skewing the sex-ration of sea turtles and in some cases resulting in all-female sea turtle hatchlings. The temperature at which a sea turtles’ egg incubates determines the hatchlings gender. Increased ocean temperatures will also change ocean currents that are critical to migrating turtles, especially hatchlings that are transported by the currents.

“The 100-million-year-old leatherback sea turtle is one of nature’s greatest survivors. If global climate is the fatal blow that leads to their extinction, it is very plausible that we as a speices have underestimated the threats to our own survival, ” added Milne.

Sea turtles have responded to climatic variation in the past, but are at present particularly vulnerable due to their crashing populations. Populations of Pacific leatherback and loggerhead sea turtles have declined by 80% and 95% in the last 25 years, respectively. As a result, sea turtles have a much more limited ability to cope with changing nesting beaches, declining food availability, and shifting ocean currents.