Jun 15, 2017

Florida beaches are getting so hot that baby sea turtles are cooking alive

Katherine Ellen Foley
Facing an uphill battle for survival.	Photo: Juan Carlos Ulate, Reuters
Facing an uphill battle for survival. Photo: Juan Carlos Ulate, Reuters

Life for newborn sea turtles is a brutal fight for survival. . . Only about one in 1,000 to 10,000 actually make it to adulthood.

Unfortunately, it’s getting tougher for these little guys to make it out of the nest at all: rising beach temperatures resulting from climate change are killing baby sea turtles before they even hatch.

According to Oceana, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit dedicated to marine conservation, rising sand temperatures have already killed off entire nests on beaches in Florida and Costa Rica. “We’re seeing more dead eggs,” Jeanette Wyneken, a biologist studying sea turtles at the Florida Atlantic University, told Oceana. “And when we do get turtles hatching, they’re often heat stressed: They may hatch and crawl to the water, but then die.” The strain of surviving at elevated temperatures drains them of the energy their tiny bodies need to travel far enough to start feeding.

Rising temperatures are a threat to these creatures in more ways than one. For sea turtles (and many other reptiles) the temperature of the sand the eggs develop in determines sex (paywall). Typically, sands above 29.5°C (85°F) produce female turtles and cooler temperatures around 28°C (82°F) produce males. So as temperatures have warmed, conservation scientists have found that females have begun to outnumber males by nearly four to one in some nesting locations.

Scientists aren’t sure what makes for a healthy ratio of male to female turtles—they only recently started studying these numbers in response to climate change. But theoretically, an all-female population would eventually die out because they couldn’t reproduce.

The demise of entire turtle nests due to heat, though, would accelerate the die-off of turtle populations .